Tuesday, June 2, 2009...2:26 pm

More on the demise of the professional journalist

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Here’s a good essay from Dan Tynan on the pressure faced by “real” journalists (ie those who spend time doing original research, rather than regurgitating other people’s material verbatim and claiming credit for it).
He contrasts the effort required to produced a thoroughly researched and well-written 2,500 word article with the instant traffic generated for bloggers who pick up on the material and repost it, sometimes with little or no attribution. 
Ultimately, he argues that most of the blogosphere is parasitic on the efforts of the professionals. Without the real thing, he says, the world of regurgitated news will have nothing left to feed on, and we will all be poorer for it. 

Unless you only care about one or two topics in your life, you need generalists who can give you the world in 60 seconds, or 6 pages, or however long you have time for. You need people like me. Whether you like it or not.

It’s not a new idea – back in 2006 Coyote Blog discussed the relationship between blogs and newspapers in some detail, and noted that “few bloggers would disagree with this view that we depend on the reporting of the [mainstream media] for a starting point of much of what we do”.
But Coyote isn’t generally a big fan of journalists – he thinks they are lazy, sloppy, partisan and ignorant, particularly when it comes to an understanding of statistics or science. And you know what? I often agree with him. Tellingly, he points out:

One of the mistakes newspaper-types make in comparing newspapers to blogs is that they compare the reality of blogs with the ideals of newspapers, particularly on things like sourcing and fact-checking.

So where could the media go in future? 
Coyote argues that the value of blogs is in a kind of “network or swarm”. Read enough of them and you get a much richer and deeper knowledge than if you skim the paper on the way to work:

No newspaper, for example, has even one tenth the economic firepower the combination of Cafe HayekMarginal Revolution, the Knowledge Problem, and the Mises Blog, among many others, bring to my desktop. 

Dan Tynan’s argument is that journalists perform a mediating role that information-seeking humans really need. Some may suggest that this role is now redundant. But Tynan argues: 

My response is, why shop at the grocery store? Why not hunt and kill your own food? […] Why rely on professionals for anything?

As I noted in the comments to the post, I think this misses the point. Although his argument is valid, the uncomfortable truth is that journalism isn’t as important to most people as journalists think it is. (I know, I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again soon too, probably.) 

The problem with the grocery store/hunt it yourself analogy is that we really do need to eat, but we really don’t need to read well-researched articles on whatever topic it may be. I mean, it’s nice, but it’s optional.

That’s also probably why very few of us will spend the time needed to read updates on 20 or 30 specialist blogs to learn about important issues. You have to be a real news junkie to do that. 

So, are we facing a future of more-or-less informed babble with little or no “real” investigative reporting?

Even if we are, there really isn’t much we, on the supply side of the equation, can do about it. 

But take heart – there is life after journalism. Your hard-won skills don’t have to go to waste…

HT: David Woodward


  • Nobody ever cared as much about journalism as journalists thought they did… even in the ‘good’ times. Truth is that before the internet, print had an almost total monopoly on information dissemination. Newspapers had 400-odd years to develop their lazy ‘model’: telling readers what was important, and what they should value, because it suited newspapers’ revenue/cost ‘model’.
    That the dying model no longer provides the cash for those ‘well researched’ 2,500-word pieces doesn’t mean many folks will miss them (although Tynan naturally starts from this assumption. He would, wouldn’t he?). Me, I don’t think anybody would have much missed them 50 or 100 years ago… though it pains us professional hacks to countenance this.
    Journalists have really got to stop trying to figure out how to sell to the public, in a new medium, what they’ve always provided. It’s looking through the wrong end of the telescope. What we need to do (and it will be painful, difficult and costly – at least initially) is to ask our audiences what they DO want… then give it to them. Whatever it is, and however different it looks from what we’ve always done. Only then will our business have any kind of future.

  • Agreed… IF we stick to what we know as ‘journalism’. I’m sure there is money to be made online if you starting selling stuff that a) people want and b) which they can’t NOT pay for.
    Which means data streams and software, basically. Things that journalism has hitherto had nothing to do with.

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