Nat’l Post: ‘You’ll Miss’ The Old Media When Its Gone


By: Warner Todd Huston

Jonathan Kay of the National Post (Canada) is sure that we’ll miss the old media when its gone. So sure he wrote a paean to how great the media is… and he missed the target by a wide margin on every point he made. Unfortunately, he took a good point and made a mockery of the truth of the matter with his wrongheaded reasoning.

In “You’ll miss us when we’re gone” Kay asserts that the media exists for “a genuine, altruistic desire for an educated citizenry” and hopes that predictions of its “imminent extinction” are wrong. He also claims that there are “certain kinds of important stories that simply cannot be covered, except by deep-pocketed traditional media organizations employing professional journalists.” Aside from imagining that the press is at all interested in “education” he isn’t too far off the mark here.

We do need the media, at least a media with “deep pockets” that can afford to cover things in some depth and at distance, the distance of the whole globe. Not too many bloggers and new media folks can afford to go about the world interviewing folks and investigating stories. Sure its a small world these days, but boots on the ground is an important thing to investigative writing. So, the old media does serve an important role. It isn’t a role that bloggers and new media people cannot do, of course. But it is an important role nonetheless.

But, back to Kay’s assertion that the media is interested in “education.” They most assuredly are not. What they are interested in is indoctrinating their readers in a certain worldview. Education implies giving readers all the relevant facts so that the readers might be informed enough to make up their own minds. Kay and his cohorts, on the other hand, only want to convey their own ideology, carefully excluding and screening out information that doesn’t fit their worldview. What they do does not educate. Of course, this is the main reason they are losing readers.

Yet, my quibble above aside, after his third paragraph he begins to effectively fail to prove his point altogether with the example that he thinks proves the old media is preeminent in investigative journalism.

Kay focuses on a New York Times story by Mattathias Schwartz headlined “The Trolls Among Us,” a feature he calls “extraordinary.”

Now, I read this same article when it debuted. It was a great piece. But for proof that we need the media, it fails to persuade.

The Schwartz piece delves into the nihilistic world of the Internet Troll. It is filled with jerks, creeps, and bigheaded nitwits who think they are somehow great philosophers. As all of you reading this are sure to know already, these are people who merely roam about the Internet posting mean things to and about other people whom they’ve never met and have no beef with. Trolls are inherently ignorant, no-accounts who do not deserve the attention Schwartz gives them. Still it was an interesting read.

But, instead of mere interest, Kay seems to think this story serves as an example of why the New York Times should never go away. He claims that because of the ” New York Times-financed shoe-leather reporting” the “readers were able to observe the piteous wreckage behind the trolls’ braggadocio.” And he insists, for some strange reason, that this story could never have come from a blogger or new media writer. “There isn’t a blogger in the world,” Kay claims, “who could throw all of these resources behind a single investigation.”

This is a specious claim. Especially considering that the story itself is one based on the Internet itself! Who else but a blogger might know enough of the ins and outs of the Internet and have the connections with other denizens of the Internet to write such a story? I mean, anyone reading the Schwartz story and found themselves surprised is surely one not himself familiar with the Internet. Trolls are quite old hat to anyone intimate with the Internet. Certainly there is not a thing wrong with Schwartz’ story and the “shoe leather” investigation was a key element of it. But to say that this particular story could never have been written by a blogger is somewhat absurd, really.

Kay certainly has some rather grandiose praise fore Schwart’z story and claims that bloggers cannot replicate the “original news reporting on complicated subjects” that we see in the old media. Kay then says, “…for investigative blockbusters like ‘The Trolls Among Us,’ you have to go to dinosaur media such as The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker.” This adulation is a bit over-the-top, to be sure.

Unfortunately, Kay really missed an opportunity to find a better story to make his case. Perhaps a story on the Iraq war, or Israel penned by a reporter on the scene would better have made his case. After all, it is probably too much to expect a citizen blogger to be able to cover the Middle East, America and trolls on the Internet with equal aptitude. The one stop shop of the old media, however, does have those “deep pockets” to do so. This is not to say it is impossible for the new media to replicate, but it is without question certainly harder for it to do so.

Furthermore there really is something to be said for the so-called “professional” journalist. While most out there don’t seem very professional, the simple fact that it might pay reasonably well to be a journalist for the old media encourages people to go into that line of work. Whereas, blogging attracts hobbyists and the level of reporting and writing can far more often not rise to the level of a “profession” the way salaried journalism might. This is simply a fact of life. People go where the money is and in droves avoid the places where hard work does not necessarily result in adequate remuneration.

Finally, though, at the end of the piece he gets back on track and makes a good point. It is a point I, too, have pondered and I have found that I’ve come to grudgingly agree with Kay’s fears.

Will I be here in a year, or five, or 10, still lecturing you on the importance of my industry? Or will I be taking your burger order through a staticy speaker? I don’t know. But I can promise you one thing: If print scribes do go the way of buggy-whip makers, the marketplace of ideas is going to be more superficial and unedifying than it already is.

So, as much as I like to carp about the old media, there is a reason not to wish for its demise. I, for one, do not want the old media destroyed. I want it reformed into a more ideal, worthwhile industry that will better fulfill the charge of educating the public that Kay posited is its charge. I’d like to see a media reformed away from the nearly monolithic leftism it now peddles to a more balanced presentation. Or, baring that, I like to see the creation of enough media outlets that give the conservative side of the issues to balance the preponderance of wild-eyed leftism seen throughout the current old media establishment.

So, while I don’t particularly care what Mr. Kay’s personal future is I do not want to see the entire old media wiped away leaving only the new media to pick up the pieces.

We really do need them. We just need them to get better at what they do.

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