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The Recent Thing Closest to a High-Quality DeLong Smackdown I Can Find: Legacy Journalism Skills Edition

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Apropos of:

Zumb: I've been thinking about what...:

The legacy skills of reporting have lost their value..."

and my:

Legacy vs. Internet Media Once More: Just what are these 'legacy skills of reporting'...

that have lost their value?...

As best as I can see... the 'skills' of having a big Rolodex containing a lot of people who are confident that if they talk to you the story will show them or their cause in a better light. This is a valuable skill in the pre-internet age. Trading pieces of beat-sweetening for information (cf. what Matthew Yglesias described as "Richard Stevenson's love poem to Karl Rove") is unethical but efficient. With it, you can write a story in a day in a world in which actually finding, assembling, digesting, and processing the paper trail to write the story would take a week or more.

But it means that you are not a trusted information intermediary. You are, rather, something else--but it does get a job if not the job done...

Robert Waldmann responds by writing:

Robert Waldmann: Comment on "Legacy vs. Internet Media Once More": "[Although] the exact same question came to my mind...

...Your description of the legacy skills is harsh....

My guess was... that 'internet skills' means 'higher googling,'--that is what used to be called (with a sneer) Lexis-Nexis journalism--and that 'legacy skills' were the ability to find sources and get them to talk....

I am not so sure either that legacy skills are unethical or that they are obsolete....

There is a legitimate highly ethical critically important role for reporters who know who whistle blowers are (and know they really do have access to the inside information) and who don't name them. The occasional real whistle blower is surrounded by hundreds or thousands of spin meisters. But similar skills are required to interview each of them.

Consider Seymour Hersh. Are you saying that reporters like him are no longer needed? His skills must be old--he used them in the 60s.

Now the key recent examples of journalists with legacy skills (as I and the Polk and Pulitzer committees define them) are Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ewen MacAskill (Polk only) and Barton Gelman. The latest legacy media awards are split between the legacy and Omidyar media, but the skills are the old skills (including, most definitely, having given Snowden reason to believe that his information would be presented in a way which encouraged intepretations which would please him)....

The problem is that it is a rewarded skill to convince powerful people to supply one with official leaks--off the record communications which would be made on the record if that were necessary. The socially undesirable skill is the ability to convince extremely powerful people who have plenty of ways to communicate their views that you are on their side....

The bad legacy skills also include getting on the record quotes from people who are so powerful that their opinions are news, even if they are false opinions about matters of fact (or actually lies). The key bad legacy reporters would be Chris Matthews, the late Tim Russert--not Bob Woodward....

There can be a problem... the view that it is too hard and pointless to learn the facts (because, fairly or not, in politics perception is reality) so one should just cover the debate, and powerful fools and knaves are as good as, and easier to find than, genuine experts. But your definition didn't include the 'powerful', 'plenty of ways to get the message out', or important enough that it doesn't matter that their claims are false clauses.

I think that this is a fine DeLong Smackdown, even though Robert claims not to think so:

OK this is a minor and very verbose extension of your post, not a DeLong smackdown. Sorry. I'm trying to protect you from [having to read] Graeber, but you aren't helping--give me a break--write something dumb for a change.

MOAR like this, please, internet...

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