Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Crusading Journalist

Journalism professor Neil Henry argues that the decline in the newspaper industry caused by a parasitic Internet has gone far enough. Google has a duty to support journalists, he argues, because newsmen uphold a public trust.

I see a world where corporations such as Google and Yahoo continue to enrich themselves with little returning to journalistic enterprises, all this ultimately at the expense of legions of professional reporters across America, now out of work because their employers in "old" media could not afford to pay them. ...

It is no longer acceptable for Google corporate executives to say that they don't practice journalism, they only work to provide links to "content providers." Journalism is not just a matter of jobs, and dollars and cents lost. It is a public trust vital to a free society. It stands to reason that Google and corporations like it, who indirectly benefit so enormously from the expensive labor of journalists, should begin to take on greater civic responsibility for journalism's plight. Is it possible for Google to somehow engage and support the traditional news industry and important local newspapers more fully, for example, to become a vital part of possible solutions to this crisis instead of a part of the problem?

Is it not possible for Google and other information corporations to offer more direct support to schools of journalism to help ensure that this craft's values and skills are passed on to the next generation?

You have to admit it's an interesting argument. But what exactly is the argument that Neil Henry is making? Near as I can tell it is an assertion that news gathering and responsible editing constitute a public good, like national defense, or as a civilian intelligence gathering system. And that in the past it was formerly a private good, in that you couldn't read the news unless you bought a paper, which allowed providers to charge for it. But at any rate, it's a public good now and one that the media industry can't sustainably bill for, because the Internet keeps giving it away for a cut-rate price. Therefore to keep the whole journalistic enterprise turning over, some means must be found to extract money from the leeches of the Internet to support journalism and the schools which will continue to produce journalists.

Clearly information itself has many characteristics of a public good, "in the sense that each individual's consumption of such a good leads to no subtractions from any other individual's consumption of that good," but up until the time that media organizations lost control of the distribution they could treat it differently and charge for access to it.

Even today and into the forseeable future, there will be no untrammeled public access to everything. Copyright law, archival bulk, latency and other considerations can be used to hold material back, or at least be held back for a time, available only to those willing to pay. But at all events, information being what it is, all attempts to charge for it means differentiating between different flows, much to the chagrin of those who advocate Net Neutrality. "Activists fear that telecom companies may also use this power to discriminate between traffic types, charging tolls on content from some content providers (i.e. websites, services, protocols), particularly competitors. Their worry is that failure to pay the tolls would result in poor service or no service for certain websites or certain types of applications." Although this criticism has been directed largely against proposals to provide different levels of bandwidth, it should be equally valid against attempts to provide different levels of information access.

But that brings us back to the question of whether journalism is really a "public trust". Even if its most ardent advocates will admit that it is -- or at least was -- also a business. Like Google. Oh wait ...


Blogger 49erDweet said...

There is nothing so silly and naive as a professor who has missed the entire point.

The MSM is failing primarily because what it chooses to say and report on is generally so biased politically that too many readers simply shun them, spending their "informational" money elsewhere. This economic 'hit' is so foreseeable as to be obvious to all - unless, of course, one can't see 'bias' because he are one.

And expecting Google and Yahoo to develop 'ethics' en re their journalistic content is like hoping a pig will learn to wear a suit coat and necktie.

5/30/2007 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...

I think he has a point. A small one.

Old media makes money on ads, just like new media does. Old media hands can earn their daily bread like new media hands do -- i.e., get a day job. Or a night one. Or beg for money. Or sell trinkets.

All of which I've done to be a part of the new media. And it only happened because I stumbled upon The Belmont Club one day. I still remember the email I sent to the Baron at work:

"you*must* read this fellow. I've never seen anyone like him."

And now here we are, tied to the computer except for rare bathroom breaks...

5/30/2007 09:27:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

The demise of the mainstream media has little to do with the rise of the internet, but instead it is a result of the rise of media conglomerates. In particular, local newspapers rely upon the monopoly power within regional markets to reap revenue they don't earn, but harvest as a form of rent.

It would make sense to say that journalists should be paid to do their jobs, but why should one pay a journalist who doesn't do his job but instead uncritically regurgitates the contents of the press releases he is given? And why should we subsidize media outlets who have already dumbed down their reporting as part of "streamlining their operations"? Or egotistical newspaper editors who think they have a moral responsibility to shepherd their flocks (and control local politics)?

Newspapers lack imagination. Sure, there is a business model that newspapers could use to beat the internet hands down, but if they can't figure it out on their own it's their own tough luck. I don't particularly desire to say it in public precisely because I would like to get paid for it if I do. What point is there in giving a cabal of newspaper monopolies an idea that would earn them billions of dollars and leave me without a dime?

For the time being, let's pay the journalists by letting them market their wares on the internet.

5/30/2007 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger F said...

It's what progress is all about. But I suppose town criers told publishers they should fund town crier education programs when newspapers began to put them out of business. What will bloggers demand of the next new technology? Scholarships for unemployed bloggers? Oh, I forgot -- they're already unemployed. F

5/30/2007 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

If the media and the professor would stop to think on the subject, they might reckon the start of their decline to the point when the talk radio format was begun. The internet has only defined the ratio of the slope.

5/31/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Thoseare only a few of the reasons the publishers are losing readership but they come from a political ortypically business attitude rather than a readership attitude.

You need a readership attitude to judge because that is wose money you are asking for.

Here are a couple of other reasons.
1. I see news on the internet about three minutes after it happens. That beats even the TV hands down.
2, It is free, why buy a paper.
3. The people being the journalists don't typically have direct access to the traditional media. I have seen media asking for news from the public, but most still don't. They don't get the message. There are two hundred million new journalists out there. Old style journalists don't have a very high chance of being first on the scene.
4.The new readership has neither the time, nor often the stamina, to read reasoned argument or educated opinion. They are interest for ten seconds, they want the headline and a brief explanation.
5. Those who want deeper opinion can read thirty blogs in the time it takes to buy one newspaper with, maybe, two opinions. And then we can discuss it. Howlong does that take with a newspaper?

Don't give up on newspapers yet though. Remember just a few years ago when the first books were available on floppy discs? Books were dead, right? Well, who knew that computers would also revolutionise publishing and printing, now more books are sold than ever. The interesting question is can and how will newspapers reinvent themselves?

5/31/2007 12:31:00 AM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

If newspapers keep using wire services for most of their content they can't really complain. Wire stories are free on the internet. Using their own resources to make something new, and then charging for the product, would be the smart way to go. It's hard to compete with free, so why do they keep doing it?

Local news can be done well by newspapers. My home town paper is terrible at local news. It is bloated with a bunch of AP wire stories and syndicated columnists that I can read for free on the internet. Why bother?

As for opinion... I've found that I'm right about as often as an average columnist (which is to say not very often). And opinion is free from other sources... so again they try to compete with free.

I don't really need opinion from newspapers... I need news. And news I won't get any other way.

My Belmont Club intro was via Steven Den Beste.

5/31/2007 02:48:00 AM  
Blogger Brother D-Day said...

It's funny how the leftist ruling class is tasting its own bitter pill nowadays.

They hate the Internet and talk radio because they are insurgent channels that have annihilated their hegemony over the old media channels.

They were the insurgents, now they are the rotted establishment, choking off free discourse and information that threatens to push their putrid corpse into the sea of irrelevancy.

They are the "reactionary conservatives" with a death-grip on the past. Scared of the future.

From media, to GM foods, to trying to force the climate into stasis, the looney leftists are lashing out at the universe for daring to move on from the 1960s. And they would bring down the universe with them if they could.

5/31/2007 04:56:00 AM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Professor Henry conveniently ignores the decline in public trust of journalists. I, for one, would still be a subscriber to the local newspaper if it weren't so biased and inaccurate. The professor should also devote some thought to how j-schools have served to increase bias in the news, all in the name of "social justice" and other weasel words.

5/31/2007 05:01:00 AM  
Blogger R said...

The Wild West: I come into town, go to the saloon, look at the tables with people sitting, talking, gesturing, etc. Finally, I choose a table, grab a chair, and sit my ass down to listen and share. After a few minutes, I decide to leave: Just don't like what I'm hearing, nor the way it's delivered. I go to another table and repeat this choice.

So it is with how I receive my news, today. Today, I have more choices. Mainstream media no longer holds the power. God has chosen to break up his voice and offers it to many others.

Yet, his old messenger stills screams that this is where the "real truths" come to be presented.

I doubt it. And by the looks of things, millions upon millons of other listeners have followed me away from this table of arrogance and entitlement.

I am a better citizen for this decision, too!

5/31/2007 05:36:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

Whenever I see the words "legions of professional... " I reach for my gun.


5/31/2007 05:56:00 AM  
Blogger Louise said...

"because newsmen uphold a public trust."


5/31/2007 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger IanRae said...

The professor's complaint is similar to other content providers such as musicians, software developers, and the hordes involved in making movies & TV. They work to create something that now is given away for free.

The complaint is valid but not the remedy he proposes. Radio killed vaudeville. Things change.

5/31/2007 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Do I have this straight?

This guy, a professor of journalism, reports that A BILLIONAIRE bought a bunch of newspapers, but there's no money for salaries.

And insists that the salaries then ought to be paid not by Mr. Billionaire Owner, but by the Mr. Billionaire Owner's competition, the Billionaire Owners of Google.

And still he doesn't see the obvious reason for the decline in interest in "professional" journalism.

Besides, newspapers will never really die. There are too many pet owners.


5/31/2007 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Giya said...

Let me rephrase that a bit...

I see a world where people such as Guttenberg continue to enrich themselves with little returning to the Church, all this ultimately at the expense of legions of clergymen across Europe, now out of power because commoners and churchgoers could afford to purchase and read their own bibles. ...

Change is a bitch. Either you adapt or you die.

5/31/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

..because newsmen uphold a public trust..

There a nice a $12/hr job in the waiting, sniffing paint at a construction site. That is, if the greater public good runs out of Mexicans to fill the position.

5/31/2007 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Instant communication and mass global travel means we can mine libraries half way around the world or see and experience things for ourselves.

We no longer need to have the world explained to us by liberal arts majors who can't read a blance sheet, have never built or run anything, have little grasp of economics or history, and have little experience with achievement and accomplishment (except within the narrow confines of their self-segregated clerisy).

5/31/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

"They were the insurgents, now they are the rotted establishment, choking off free discourse and information that threatens to push their putrid corpse into the sea of irrelevancy.

They are the "reactionary conservatives" with a death-grip on the past. Scared of the future."

They aren't the only ones it seems that are afraid of the free discource of ideas. Over at FreeRepublic there are been a "purge" the likes of which would make the even the most strident leftist blush. Any poster that dares to suggest that perhaps Guiliani might be the only truly viable candidate on the Republican side has his or hers posting rights yanked with no warning or explaination. Being one of the victims of this putsch I am somewhat bemused by the fact that a site that made its reputation on fighting for the free discource of information and ideas is now engaged in the very tactics of the left that it decrided. "The circle is now complete. Where once you were the teacher, now I am the master!" Talk about turning to the dark side.

5/31/2007 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Very disappointing to read about your experience, Tarnsman -- especially so since (IIRC) that site helped break the forged TANG documents story.

Very disappointing, indeed.

5/31/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

More and more, it's the stupid to average people (like this professor) trotting along behind yelling, "Wait!" as the geeks and the smart folks surge ahead. Trying to dress it up as economics or the public good, but what it really boils down to is, "we want life dumbed down back to where it was in 1950," when journalists were manly and professors were smart.

5/31/2007 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

"It is a public trust vital to a free society."

I think Dr. Henry should tred lightly with the arguement that journalism is a public trust and/or in the public good. So are the Utility companies, Telecommunications companies, the airline industry, et al. If these "services" are deemed critical to the functioning of a society, then the government can come in and regulate to ensure proper and fair distrubtion of said to services to the public.

I'm not sure that's what Dr. Henry would like, but that is a logical extension of his arguement.

PS. I was turned on to the Belmont Club through Den Beste too. Too bad he's fixated on Anime.

5/31/2007 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/31/2007 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is sensible good reason to no longer support old media newspapers-- gray newsprint smudges all over one’s fingers and then on the white blouse and cashmere cardigan. And then there are those stains from journalists' unchecked fact-lies, agenda-driven propaganda and impossible to respond to innuendo that ruin your tweed skirt.

5/31/2007 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Random Axess said...

I am an Environmentalist at heart. What has initially and continually pushed me away from print journalism is all that paper. Newspapers kill trees and as far as I can tell, the Internet does not. If I want to go back to print journalism, what I would want to find is something of lasting value that would be worth holding on to for a long time. If the print journalists are going to kill trees as part of making a living, they need to make each edition of their publication - newspaper, magazine or some new format - worth keeping. This means fewer ads, multiple article content that can be properly classified as a unit and a rugged format, something like a book. I don't know what it would look like, but I refuse to go back and kill more trees to no purpose.

5/31/2007 06:14:00 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

Why does the professor think that advertising revenue belongs to the newspapers? Or TV news? What does that have to do with journalism?


5/31/2007 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Newspaper revenues are dropping, and public opinion polls show that the public respects journalists less than used-car salesmen. Arrogant people like professor Neil Henry are not likely to find any real solutions, as they cannot or will not abandon their fantasies.

5/31/2007 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Case in point: The New York Times and Washington Post still haven't reported on that al qaeda torture manual that was found in a raid on a terrorist dungeon. Professor Henry should ask himself why citizens would want to give money to such biased journalists.

5/31/2007 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

ht instapundit, Don Surber takes his profession to harsh task:

5/31/2007 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Problem is that the public doesn't trust them anymore. In the future journalists will have be able ask meaningful and important questions like: "Do you want fries with that?"

5/31/2007 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Public trust - like Dan Rather? If you don't like the news, create some - publish it as fact - then defend it - well, it's true in principle if not in fact. Or it ought to be anyway. Where has the prof been? Public trust is to be earned, not conferred.


5/31/2007 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Public trust - like Dan Rather? Where has this guy been?


5/31/2007 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

In a liberal democracy the free flow of ideas & information is like oxygen. However, nowhere is it mandated from Heaven or elsewhere what the medium of information flow be.

Give me the days of yellow journalism and before that when papers were distinctly and fiercely partisan. This idea of "fair and balanced" while admirable is hokey, more suited to the days when it cost millions of 1950s dollars to put together national communications channels and they had to produce a watery swill like Bud Light to be able to sell it to enough people to make it pay.

If a newspaper or whatever wants to sell take s stand and push it. There is a reason why Keith Olbermann is gaining viewership.

The papers, the news, the whatever is not a public trust. Professor is just another blacksmith wailing about the falling fortunes of horse powered transportation.

5/31/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

"because newsmen uphold a public trust."

Oh dear Lord I hurt myself laughing at that. Seriously! I think I ruptured something due to laughing so hard.

5/31/2007 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger pst314 said...

Public trust???

A few months into Clinton's first term, he addressed a meeting at CBS. Dan Rather said to him "If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners."

Journalists have become so arrogant that they don't even pretend to be objective and unbiased. And hence ordinary citizens don't even pretend to respect them.

6/01/2007 10:45:00 AM  

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