Kvetch of the Week: The death rattle that lives on

I was so busy last week continuing to build a sports journalism site, making a freelance deadline for another publication devoted to sports journalism and meeting with fellow journalists involved in an online news startup that I missed one very big development:

The news is dying.

Most shockingly, the news was given its fatal prognosis by a Web journalist.

Damn! And I’m just getting started! What about the long list of journalism-related things I’ve got to do this week? Should I just forget about that and check into a hospice?

Gary Kamiya, the executive editor of Salon.com, one of the first sites to produce serious online-only journalism unleashed a long, tortured essay last week that’s the latest winner of the Kvetch of the Week sweepstakes:

“If newspapers die, so does reporting. That’s because the majority of reporting originates at newspapers. Online journalism is essentially parasitic. Like most TV news, it derives or follows up on stories that first appeared in print.

“There’s no reason to believe this is going to change. Currently there is no business model that makes online reporting financially viable. From a business perspective, reporting is a loser. There are good financial reasons why the biggest content-driven Web business success story of the last few years, the Huffington Post, does very little original reporting. Reported pieces take a lot of time, cost a lot of money, require specialized skills and don’t usually generate as much traffic as an Op-Ed screed, preferably by a celebrity. It takes a facile writer an hour to write an 800-word rant. Very seldom can the best daily reporters and editors produce copy that fast.”

I don’t dismiss lightly the perspective of someone who’s been doing online journalism for quite a while, and I too miss what newspapers have been because I worked for them for 25 years.

But neither do I have the urge to lament what’s passing on.

On Sunday Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the Inquirer and Daily News, both of which employ (for now) people I know, was the latest newspaper company to file for bankruptcy protection. There will be more.

And I’m awfully sorry about that. I’m also concerned about developments at my former paper, where there’s a new publisher who penned an open letter to readers over the weekend spelling out further consolidations in print sections and more.

There are no guarantees that online news will ever be profitable and that journalists like me will be able to make a decent living working on the Web. It’s discouraging at times as I am confronted with this reality. But to raise a white flag now is ludicrous.

And so is the inclination to cling to sentimental notions of the way things were mainly out of fear for the future:

“With all their flaws, traditional media institutions served as unifying forces in society. No one wants to go back to the days of network TV or the old Time magazine, when the media served as a quasi-official info-nanny telling citizens what to think. But a society without any shared sources of trusted information will be in danger of fragmenting. The old media acted as an institutional check on individual passions and prejudices. It served a Lockean function, upholding the social contract. The new world could be a Hobbesian one, a war of all against all.”

For quite a while there is going to be a media identity crisis, and there is going to be constant haggling over how to pay for the news, and there will be those who say that the funding issue misses the point.

Some weary over the arguing, but I believe it’s a good thing. It confirms that the news ain’t dead yet. Indeed, reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.


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