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Neil Henry vs. Jay Rosen Future-of-Journalism Smackdown!

And that's the bell...

Neil Henry:

The decline of news: The Chronicle's announcement earlier this month that 100 newsroom jobs will be slashed in the coming weeks in the face of mounting financial woes represents just the latest chapter in a tragic story... far fewer professionals today covering the news... the industry's contraction.... The rise of the Internet... sharp declines in traditional advertising revenues... ... newspapers such as The Chronicle must make staff cuts to survive... professional journalists committed to seeking the truth and reporting it, independently and without fear or favor... must go....

[T]here will be nothing on YouTube, or in the blogosphere, or anywhere else on the Web to effectively replace... those professionals.... to investigate stories as nationally significant as the BALCO scandal... to doggedly uncover shady financial practices at the University of California... to cover local city halls, courts and schools, reporting community news that the public often takes for granted... fewer trained watchdogs....

Idolaters of Web-based news and information sites, "citizen"-produced journalism, and the blogosphere of individual self-publishers, often argue that old mainstays... are... getting only what they deserve.... The corporate media... have failed us miserably... alternatives on the Web... millions of bloggers... powerful news aggregators such as Google and Yahoo....

As a teacher of journalism, I see... a society increasingly fractured, less informed by fact and more susceptible to political and marketing propaganda, cant and bias.... [C]orporations such as Google and Yahoo continue to enrich themselves... at the expense of legions of professional reporters... now out of work....

Sam Zell... likened Google and Yahoo to modern-day pirates.... Google executives maintain that the travails of the American newspaper industry today are hardly their fault. They argue that their informational enterprises simply help the public find whatever it is looking for.... Google Vice President Marissa Mayer...: "We are computer scientists, not journalists."... It is no longer acceptable.... Journalism is... a public trust vital to a free society.... 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... instead of [just being] a part of the problem?...

I can't help but fear a future, increasingly barren of skilled journalists, in which Google "news" searches turn up not news, but the latest snarky rants from basement bloggers, fake news reports from government officials and PR cleverly peddled in the guise of journalism by advertisers wishing only to sell, sell, sell...

Jay Rosen:

PressThink: Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class : Neil Henry (ex-Washington Post, now at Berkeley J-School) wants reparations from Google for what it's done to news. I hope the San Francisco Chronicle keeps Neil Henry’s essay--Google Owes Big Journalism Big Time--free and clear of any pay walls. Link rot must not be allowed to set in, for this is a document....

Matthew R. Baise, online editor of the Baltimore Sun... said he was seeing it more and more: Journalists suggest a “shakedown” of Google “in which we teach that nasty little search engine a lesson and wrestle back some of those dollars that are rightfully ours”... a sense of grievance, which is truly felt. To the grievance there is grafted a description of the Internet or one its parts, and in this description (by the old timer) you can often hear things.... I think [Henry is] saying, “The details don’t interest me. I get what’s going on here.”

No, you don’t.... Ryan Sholan at his blog, Invisible Inkling.... His message to Neil Henry:

Get over it, professor. Blaming search engines is like blaming the library. “Oh no, please don’t let readers actually find stories from my newspaper and then click through to my site to read them, anything but that!” Forget it.

Do read Sholin’s 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head. It’s a grad student lecturing a J-professor about doing his reporting. He properly seethes. “Newspaper classifieds suck and they have for years.” “Your major metro newspaper could probably use some staff cuts.” Jeff Jarvis tried to school Henry: “Google is far and away the most productive means of sending audience to news sites.” Bigger than Drudge. “It’s up to the news sites to then make the best of that audience.”... Scott Karp is far more polite about Henry’s “fundamental misunderstanding of what is responsible for the collapse of the newspaper business.” Technology isn’t destroying journalism. “It’s simply destroying the business that subsidized journalism.” Finding another source of subsidy is what we should all be doing....

I read Henry’s column as a kind of valedictory, a farewell speech... admitting to the Ryan Sholin generation that it would get no help--and certainly no guidance--from Neil Henry. He’s bitter about the online world and its unjust economy of news, resents but resolutely will not grok it, and he wants the people there (“online...”) to know what they’re destroying.

Adding to the downbeat feel is the title, which isn’t Google Owes Big Journalism Big Time (that’s mine) but... “The decline of news.” The essay contains no links. It isn’t aware that it’s published online. It’s not only about decline in the press but a live demo. Henry’s book was published the same day his op-ed appeared at the Chronicle, May 29th. But do you think there is a link to the announcement?

My impression: we’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools.... It’s clown time for the curmudgeons because they’ve lost the smart people who can save the business the curmudgeon’s had tried to save by jeering at the stupids and their attempted changes...


Excuse me, I need to worship my idol a bit more... There... That's better...

Karl Marx said somewhere that the hand-loom gives you the feudal lord and the power-loom gives you the industrial capitalist. So in 1884 Ottmar Mergenthaler gave us the traditional American twentieth-century newspaper journalism of Charles Foster Kane (and the broadcast TV spectrum allocation gave us Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkhite). The Mergenthaler gives you the power to deliver advertisements--classified advertisements, department store advertisements, movie advertisements, new car advertisements--to every household metro-wide for pennies. But how do you get people to read the advertisements rather than simply throw them away or use them, unread, for birdcage liner? You mix the advertisements with news, and reviews, and sports, and opinion, and entertainment. You make the twentieth-century American newspaper.

Because the ads that are mixed with the best news (and reviews, and sports, and opinion, and entertainment) get read the most, there is pressure on the then new-media moguls--because daily newspapers were once new media in their day--to employ lots of good people and to pay them well. Over time the business consolidates: papers fold or find their niches, and establish stable competitive positions. Now there are monopoly profits to be distributed--and some of them go to the people who write the news (and reviews, and sports, and opinion, and entertainment). Now there is often an owner who is a big wheel in at least local politics and celebrity, and is willing to pay some out of his pocket to buy a better newspaper to increase his relative status vis-a-vis his or her other power-elite peers. It is a golden age. And, indeed the public sphere, the civic discourse, the informed citizenry created by journalism is well worth its price in terms of the subsidy from advertising profits that high-quality journalism needs.

But without sufficient competition, people and organizations get lazy. William Greider has his off-the-record breakfasts with Reaganite OMB Director David Stockman, who tells Greider that the Reagan administration is lying through all thirty-two of its teeth. William Greider doesn't tell the reporters working for him "you can sharpen that criticism of the administration and it will still be accurate" or "that defense of the administration is substantively misleading" or "you've buried the lead." And he's not alone: think of Clay Chandler or Jonathan Weisman or Sebastian Mallaby or Deborah Howell. All Washington Post reporters with temporary monopolies who have forgotten that their job is to inform their readers, and instead have fallen on their knees before their sources, their editors, their bosses, or the flacks leaving message after message on their answering machines.

And then, one day, the Mergenthaler's descendants are obsolete, and the necessary link between the ads and the news (and reviews, and sports, and opinion, and entertainment) delivered via the morning paper vanishes. And the pool of money that had subsidized the news dries up.

And then (to be continued)...

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