Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Kinsley Is Hurting America Department)
Michael Kinsley needs to stop. He is hurting America.
TIME.com Print Page: TIME Magazine -- Do Newspapers Have a Future?: Quarreling about staff cuts, the old medium is missing the bigger questions: By MICHAEL KINSLEY
It seems hopeless. How can the newspaper industry survive the Internet? On the one hand, newspapers are expected to supply their content free on the Web. On the other hand, their most profitable advertising--classifieds--is being lost to sites like Craigslist. And display advertising is close behind. Meanwhile, there is the blog terror: people are getting their understanding of the world from random lunatics riffing in their underwear, rather than professional journalists with standards and passports.... [T]he home-delivered newspaper is an archaic object.... [Y]ou can skip the newspapers and go to some site that makes the news more entertaining or politically simpatico. And where do these wannabes get most of their information? From newspapers, of course....
So are we doomed to get our news from some acned 12-year-old in his parents' basement recycling rumors from the Internet echo chamber? Not necessarily.... [T]here is room between the New York Times and myleftarmpit.com for new forms that liberate journalism from its encrusted conceits while preserving its standards, like accuracy.
I'm not sure what that new form will look like. But it might resemble the better British papers today.... The Brits have never bought into the American separation of reporting and opinion. They assume that an intelligent person, paid to learn about some subject, will naturally develop views about it. And they consider it more truthful to express those views than to suppress them in the name of objectivity...
Let me take a look at the last... what do I have in my history?... thirty-five things I have looked at on the web:
We have three print-media sites: the WSJ (news pages only), the FT, and the Economist (not quite up to the other two in quality, but still close.
We have Bloomberg, and the wire service formerly known as Knight-Ridder.
We have five sites that might indeed fall under the classification of "wannabes [that] get most of their information... from newspapers": "Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing," Daniel Gross, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Kevin Drum's "Political Animal" at the Washington Monthly. But none of these are in any sense "wannabes." These are "bes." They are all of them the cream of the journalistic and analytic crop in their niche. And they are all of them deliberately filling the vital niche of providing the background and context to the daily news--the background and context that the newspaper reporters lack the knowledge, intelligence, and ovaries to provide.
We have twenty-five other sites. None of them "myleftarmpit.com" or "acned 12-year-old[s] in [their] parents' basement recycling rumors" or "random lunatics riffing in their underwear... [without] standards of passports." All of them draw some of their "information... from newspapers," but by no means most of it. They draw their information from their own expertise and their own networks outside the national dailies and newsweeklies.
Laura M.'s 11D; Duck of Minerva; Felix Salmon's RGE Economonitor; RGE Brad Setser; Steve Clemons's Washington Note; Greg Mankiw; P.Z. Myers's Pharyngula; BoingBoing; Marginal Revolution; Jim Henley's Unqualified Offerings; Making Light; Josh Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo; Unfogged; Mark Thoma's Economist's View; Crooked Timber; Intel Dump; Laura Rozen's War and Piece; MaxSpeak; FireDogLake; Greg Djerejian's Belgravia Dispatch; Balkinization; Walter Jon Williams's Angel Station; Duncan Black's Eschaton; Craig Newmark's Newmark's Door; and Billmon's Whiskey Bar.
All these are very smart, very articulate, very thoughtful people with things to say. Michael Kinsley should read some of them. He might learn something.
And with respect to the "journalistic" "standards" of the newspapers today, what do we have in the Washington Post this morning? We have two things:
First, we have David Broder praising Arnold Schwarzenegger for being "independent"--that is, for simultaneously "stand[ing] as the barrier to higher taxes" while trying to issue "$50 billion in construction bonds," as if state-issued bonds do not have to be amortized by taxes. The kindest thing one can say to Washington Post op-ed columnist David Broder today is: "Please be quiet, you blithering idiot."
Second, we have staff writer Michael D. Shear eagerly printing smears from the George Allen campaign:
campaign officials... direct[ed] a reporter [i.e., me] to Dan Cragg, a former acquaintance of Webb's.... Cragg, 67, who lives in Fairfax County, said on Wednesday that Webb described taking drives through the black neighborhood of Watts, where he and members of his ROTC unit used racial epithets and pointed fake guns at blacks to scare them. "They would hop into their cars, and would go down to Watts with these buddies of his," Cragg said Webb told him. "They would take the rifles down there. They would call them [epithets], point the rifles at them, pull the triggers and then drive off laughing. One night, some guys caught them and beat... them. And that was the end of that..."
Note Shear is eager to print the smear, even though Cragg lied to Shear's face:
Cragg said Webb told him the Watts story during a 1983 interview.... [Cragg] provided a transcript of the interview... [which] does not contain the ROTC story...
The kindest thing one can say about Washington Post staff writer Michael D. Shear is: "Please find another profession as soon as possible."
The kindest thing one can say about Michael Kinsley is left as an exercise to the reader.