Fancast:: In terms of season five, can you speak to your thoughts on the media, its role in marginalizing places like West Baltimore, North Philadelphia, East St. Louis, etc., and the state of traditional media right now?
Simon: I think we proved ourselves — newspapers, the print media — to be as ridiculously susceptible to raw capitalism and market forces as anything that we critiqued thus far in The Wire.
The newsroom where I used to work (the Baltimore Sun) had 460 people. Now it has 300. And there are people out there who just don’t care. They’ll make more money putting out a mediocre paper than they would putting out a better paper. They know this. It’s their equation. They’re quite content with mediocrity.
And within that culture we have people that are saying, ‘oh no, we’re going to do more with less,’ which is one of the great lies of the 21st century. What it means is we’re going to less with less. And that’s the nature of what journalism is becoming.
Fancast: How do you distinguish between the good and the mediocre?
Simon: You see these sort of ‘we gotcha’ stories, bite sized morsels of outrage, half-assed scandals. No one is tackling big problems. That kind of ambition is gone. When I went into journalism school, which is over 20 years ago now, high end journalism seemed like it was growing by leaps and bounds in its ability to assess the most delicate and ornate contradictions in society.
You look at some of the coverage Watergate and some of the examinations of political infrastructure that followed on the part of high end papers. It was very impressive and there was every reason to believe that it was become more so, that newspapers were going to become more serious and instead the opposite happened.
And it’s not that the ambition doesn’t exist, it’s that the overarching narrative at the national level, especially in politics but really, overall, can no longer encompass the serious. These isolated examples of decent journalism continue, at places here there and everywhere, and there are good people out there doing great things, but the overall conversation remains about Hillary laughing too loudly and not being “likeable” enough. That’s what ends up on The View and in your hairdresser’s chitchat conversation. That’s what winds up there, at a level where most people become informed by talking to each other: whether Jennifer Aniston is really a wronged woman or a whiny bitch who should get over it already.
Meanwhile, at the local level especially, newspapers are starving themselves to meet the unrealistic demands of their corporate owners while being told, over and over and over, that whatever it is they’re doing, it’s not enough. The pressure on newsrooms is unreal. Which is really the psychotic thing journalism is doing to itself right now. People don’t think we’re giving them enough of what they want, so we’ll give them less, while bitching about it! OUTSTANDING! And nobody seems able to recognize in advance that this is going to sneak up, take a chunk out of their asses, and then smile sweetly and whistle a happy tune when the bitten party turns around all “WTF, mate?!”
Honestly. It’s like watching somebody in a drunken stupor beat his head against the bathroom wall. Only slightly less fun.