After watching 40 percent of his newsroom staff leave recently in one of the biggest newspaper buyouts of the year, Newark Star-Ledger opinion columnist Paul Mulshine has issued an ad hominem rejoinder against new media evangelists and the snake oil he presumes they’re selling.
It’s also this modest blog’s last Kvetch of the Week for 2008. Here’s a newspaperman who’s clearly not going to have any of the Web as a viable alternative to print, even as it continues to plummet:
“Someone is always heralding the rise of ‘the intellectual declaration of independence of the American people,’ as H.L. Mencken once put it.
“In his 1920 essay ‘The National Letters,’ Mencken traced this sentiment back to the early days of our democracy. He noted how first Ralph Waldo Emerson and then Walt Whitman prophesized the rise of what Whitman termed ‘a class of native authors, literatuses, far different, far higher in grade than any yet known.’ Mencken was pessimistic about this prospect thanks to what he termed ‘the democratic distrust of whatever strikes beneath the prevailing platitudes.’
“I share that pessimism. Every time a new medium arises, a new group of avatars arises with it, assuring us of the wondrous effects it will produce for our democracy.”
“The old model for compensating journalists is as obsolete as the telegraph. If anyone out there in the blogosphere can tell me what the new model is, I will pronounce him the first genius I’ve ever encountered on the Internet.“
But those doing the very things he despises — blogging, multimedia work, building sites, etc. — are in the process of fleshing out the potential models, seeing what works, what engages readers, what has the most impact on our communities and the matters we care about.
No, we don’t know what the models are going to be (there won’t be just one), and the rotten economy may further delay those developments. But it’s better to burrow ahead in search of the answers than to be paralyzed and consumed by fear as a prized form of journalism deteriorates.
There’s just no looking back or lamenting. Period.