Everybody Take A Deep Breath: Media Weekend Part II

World to newspapers at large: quit your bitching.

“Enough!” John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, said in an interview. “You read things that the industry is dead, that the Internet is eating our lunch, that everyone is watching television, that national advertising is declining in the major metros.”

“But the medium is very strong,” Mr. Kimball said. “There are lots of ads in the papers, and not because those people think they’re making a charitable contribution. They’re investing in the medium because it’s delivering results.”

Newspapers are generally profitable but they leave Wall Street unenthusiastic. A Goldman, Sachs report last week warned investors that “lackluster ad revenue growth, weak circulation revenues” and “a downward trend in earnings estimates” reinforced its “negative view” of the newspaper industry. And recent disclosures of inflated circulation figures have soured the climate for some advertisers.

Seriously, no industry is as self-flagellating as journalism, but it’s for all the wrong reasons. Like religious “leaders” who use bubble-gum theology like prayer in schools to whip up the faithful while children starve on the streets, journalists focus on the trivial problems within their own trade and ignore the larger, more complicated cancers spreading throuhgout.

Journalists feel sorry for themselves because a few reporters make stories up. “They sully the profession’s good name!” academics cry. Yet political hacks masquerade as White House correspondents, and nobody holds an ethics seminar. I’m still waiting for the people who thought Jayson Blair was a big emblematic story to tell me why Jeff Gannon isn’t.

Journalists feel sorry for themselves because they read nasty things about them on the Internet. You never saw a bunch of people that so prides itself on its mental toughness dissolve into girlish tears over what somebody says about them on a web site, with the possible exception of Congressional Republicans. When I was in J-school, we were taught to make copies of our first lawsuits and send them to our parents to paste into the scrapbook, not whine and cry that people were being mean to us, Daniel Okrent. Time was, you took criticism as a compliment, corrected a mistake if you made one, and moved the hell on. This wasn’t back in the days when student journos walked to school uphill both ways: I’ve been out of college 10 years. It’s shocking to see people so ahistorical as to think the modern equivalent of political pamphlets ala Thomas Paine are the downfall of reporting as we know it. Suck it up and keep doing your jobs, or else blame yourselves for wussing out instead of blaming “the blogs.” Jesus.

All weekend long I sat in discussions about blogs “taking over” journalism, as if that was the intent of most blogs or bloggers. Journalists talked about the “threat” posed by blogs and said nothing of the threat posed by reporting that was little more than political tool, reinforcing shallow narratives and favoring runaway brides over runaway corruption. Scott Anderson of Washingtonpost.com, (full disclosure, also a good friend of Mr. Athenae’s) tried to ask one panel about the deterioration of the usual career path in journalism: local paper to larger paper to major paper, local TV station to larger station to network. If that doesn’t work, he said, where does the next generation of journalists come from? Nobody had an answer for him about that, but boy, those blogs sure are a problem.

And I think my favorite part of all the whining about the state of the media this weekend was the way everybody assumed they could do nothing about it. Guys, seriously, you’re part of the media. If there’s something you don’t like, you’re more than empowered to change it. Feel “the press” should be spending more time covering Social Security and less covering the Royal Wedding? You’ve got a press. Use it. Don’t just stand there holding the hose while the house burns down giving a grand speech about “Oh, the humanity, if only there was something we could do!” Which is what most of the particularly self-righteous brand of media crit is these days. If only we were more serious. If only we were more educated. If only we spent less time on X and more on Y. If only we had the power to act in ways we saw as responsible and reasonable and fit. Well, you do. Get to work.

Journalism, heal thyself.