Thursday, April 23, 2009

The new journalism

I've talked about Dean Baker before.  His blog, Beat The Press, gives an economist's take on the way financial news is reported in the media (at least, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a very few others).  I do enjoy reading it, but, to be honest, it's one of those where, if Baker put a general statement at the top, he could save us all a lot of trouble.  (I suggested this earlier this month, that a lot of the traffic on even the best blogs could be reduced if there was a statement of principles: "Andrew Sullivan supports all measures that allow gays to marry" would eliminate 10-20% of his posts, I think.)

Baker could do the same - why do we worry about protectionism in manufacturing when we don't care about doctors and lawyers? - and save himself a lot of writing.  But that's a minor quibble, he doesn't post that much anyway.

He's often at his most amusing when writing about the objectivity of journalism.  He's pretty old school, believing (as I do) that there is value in separating reporting from editorializing, that there is such a thing as objective writing without opinion, and he is outraged when that fails to happen.  Today he's written about a New York Times story about the apparent suicide of the CFO of Freddie Mac, and he notes:
It is hard to understand how these statements appeared in a news story. The article is speculating on issues about which it has no factual information. These comments might be appropriate for an oped, but they are not news.
That's the kind of statement very common in Baker posts, and I agree, but I also see what's happening to traditional journalism.  Perhaps he should have read my post of March 18, The future of journalism:
So what I think is going to happen is that reporters are going to have to become brands, and they will be charged with providing an endless stream of content that can be "repurposed" by "content managers" (no editors here) to the various media platforms that are part of the modern news organization.... We'll see more "controversial" writers in place of solid thinking and writing (hence, new media star Karl Rove).
Blame blogging or cable news for it if you must, but news consumers are increasingly comfortable with the idea of digesting opinions with their news.  I'm not convinced they're any better at separating fact from opinion, but they're used to having it all mixed together.  Not a lot of value is attached to old-style objective reporting.

So Baker had better get used to the kinds of stories at which he rails.  I think they're ever more likely, and we'll probably never really appreciate what we've lost.

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