1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Death of Journalism Mash-up: Ezra Klein and Matt Continetti on Clay Shirkey

Below is a Blogging Heads clip where Ezra (of the American Prospect) and Matt (of the Weekly Standard) toss around an article by Clay Shirkey on the death of newspapers. It's a great conversation between two pretty high-profile policy bloggers.

The argument from Shirkey is very, very strong. It states that the vast majority of newspaper readers have only been interested in the news on A1 of their local paper. And the ad revenue generated by that interest subsidized a ton of additional journalism. Klein calls it a "benevolent inefficiency." He argues that all of that journalism was really for a handful of regulators and politicians--the elites--and not for the general audience. And now that people in any market can get more and better versions of that A1 national news from the New York Times, bloggers and cable networks, there's no argument for the rest of the stuff local newspapers provided, and no subsidy to provide it. The collapse of local papers means that this regulatory feed-back is going to shut down, and "we won't know what we won't know"--to allude to an earlier post.

I'd add a further point. This additional non-A1 coverage created an enormous amount of reserve investigational capacity -- reporters who were trained to look into specific areas outside of A1 news. So when a C1 story went A1 (for instance, when Enron busted, or Katrina hit), there is a team of seasoned veterans who can provide deeply-sourced, intelligent coverage and analysis, because they'd been writing on related topics all along.

And this is the additional problem with the collapse of local news. Front-page news is only generally national -- sometimes the front page national news is in your back yard. And the New York Times and CNN can't cover those stories as well as a strong regional daily. Of course, during recent budget cutting, newspapers are already slashing the seasoned beat reporters, who are necessarily older and hence, better-paid and more expensive. So this capacity is already dying nationally, regardless of whether most of the dailies survive.

Shirkey makes a great point: the issue is not really the future of newspapers, but the future of journalism, and it's clear that going forward, those will continue to dissociate. That said, the form of the newspaper evolved to develop a very robust investigative model, and strong institutions, with all of the institutional knowledge that created. I'm not sure if internet journalism going forward can find the same long-term institutional strength. Imagine if much investigative journalism ends up funded by the public and by private foundations (as suggested by Ezra). Every major recession, every new budget-cutting push in government, would create a new crisis. Yikes.

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