Just Do Your Own Job

Seriously:

You people are supposed to becovering things, writing
articles about those things, doing research, conducting interviews,
filing your articles, and then going home to cry, the end.

You people probably love that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and
especially those wacky typos Jay Leno sometimes holds up, on the teevee.

WELL YOU DON’T GET TO DO THAT.

That is not your job. If youwant to try your hand at writing jokes for Comedy Central or working forThe Onion,
then by all means quit, today, and start sending in your resumes, which
will thankfully be ignored, because you people aren’t comedy writers.
You’re self-important mandarins in an industry that’s actually dying,
right now, in large part because you people have the intellectual
wherewithal of a raccoon distracted by a ball of aluminum foil. You see
blogs and you don’t say, “Hmmm that is an interesting development in
new media.” Instead, you lose your fucking institutional mind and turn
newspapers into blogs. Becausethat’s what we were short of, in this country, right?

You see some dingbat meaningless fad like Twitter and instantly decide you mustdevote your days
to this inanity, typing brief typo-ridden updates about your
meaningless life routine. This morning, Steve Case was supposed to
appear on CNBC, to talk about business, in America, which is an
important subject. But he didn’t show up when he was scheduled to show
up, and eventually the hosts began idiotically yapping in joy because
they saw an update from their missing guest, Steve Case, on
motherfuckingTwitter. Because telephones and e-mail ā€” not to mention basic human manners ā€” just plain stopped working, right?

You people notice that on this Internet, and the cable comedy
channels, and oh goodness even on the regular old broadcast teevee on
Saturday nights for the past 30 years or so, that some wise-acres are
making fun of the news, perhaps commenting in a humorous or satirical
manner about topical events. (This may have even occurredbefore those wacky fake newscasts onSaturday Night Live,
but of course there’s no way to know for sure.) And then, that’s what
you want to do, except you want to do this while in the process of
actually reporting the actual news. Stop it.

Since the rest of the liberal blogosphere has decided to join the conversation about the news we’ve been having over here for months now, I think it’s useful to remember that not everybody in newspapers resisted change. There were (and are) the hyper-risk-averse, those who view any change as bad, there are those caricatures in American newsrooms all across the country, as Kos noted today:

“Get that graffiti off my page!” he furiously demanded. You see, to
this pompous ass, anyone who would deign challenge him on the page
containing his column was a tagger. And not in the positive, artistic,
sense of the word, but in the “vandal” sense. And if that vandalism
wasn’t removed from pages containing his column, he would quit the
paper. The paper’s leadership panicked, and the commenting feature was
removed from the paper’s site.

But there’s also an even more destructive critter, the one who wants to
jump on every passing fad and make that the new mission of the paper,
the one who wants everybody to blog last week, twitter this week, text
and podcast later on in the month, who confuses tools with the use to
which they’re put, and who thinks the answer to people liking the
Internet is to make the paper like the Internet, instead of making the
paper good at being the paper and letting the Internet take care of
itself. So you have video game review columns, and lists of columnists’
favorite web sites, and painfully self-consciously “wacky” features
designed to do nothing but remind readers how terribly freaking old
they are and distract already overburdened reporters from the work they
ought to have been doing all along.

I’m biased in this, what Kos’s post is about. Local newspapers’ comment sections are among the most vile and racist places on the web and I include Little Green Footballs on that list. They don’t add anything to the paper’s content and there’s no reason to have them at all. Listening to your audience and understanding what your readers need doesn’t mean you slavishly copy everything else they like; it means you try to be what they bought you for in the first place. If the Internet can contribute to your mission in some ways, then use it for those purposes. If it can’t, then don’t pointlessly ape it out of some flailing desire to be cool. Your average third grader could tell you that isn’t gonna work.

If newspapers had continued for the last 15 years to be good at what they were good at 20 years ago, had continued to market their efforts well and distributed their products wisely and paid people fairly and been satisifed with sane profit margins, we might have a very different picture of the business today, even if the Internet as we know it didn’t exist, or even if it did.

A.

7 thoughts on “Just Do Your Own Job

  1. “continue” to market themselves well?
    I’ve worked in radio and newspapers. The smallest small-town radio station markets itself better than the NYT.

  2. Star columnists can go suck an egg.
    Seriously.
    I say this as a beat reporter — business, courthouse, sports.
    Oh, and did I mention? Columns. Four different newspapers. Never syndicated. Never six-figure salaried.

  3. I disagree, Athenae. Local newspapers comment pages are fascinating. If you are tracking hate crimes … The problem with on-line comment pages, like the Internet in general, is that people are allowed to use aliases. As you know, if you force people to use their actual name and address on a comment or letter to the editor, they clean it up fast. Have read and edited letters to the editor for 15 years, it’s amazing to see the “Jekyll & Hyde” pattern when you suddenly let people write without consequence. It’s often pretty dark. But, as a sociologist, it’s fascinating to me to see what is under the surface when you give people the security of anonymity. As a journalist, it lets me effectively counter anyone who tries to say, on the record, that we live in a “post-racial” society.
    On a practical note, I think any regular news outlet needs to require registration with real names and addresses on comments. Comments are very important. Newspapers basically do not want people writing to the paper. It’s a hassle. They criticize you. This is one reason why newspapers are dying. The superciliousness gets old after awhile.

  4. Let me add an addenda. In a small town like mine (a Mayberry sort of place), people try to maintain the illusion of a picture perfect oasis. But underneath the carefully maintained shell is a boiling pit of wife beating, child abuse and blatant racism. So long as nobody “talks about it” — the illusion of perfection is allowed to continue, and nothing is done to stop the actual (ie. real) crimes. This was Easton, Mass. in 1970-1980, where I grew up. Half of the cops on our police dept. beat their wives and got away with it. They let their friends and ‘bosses’ drive home blind drunk. Racism was rampant. Sounds like a lot of towns, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, during this period, the local newspapers actually conspired to keep all of this a secret. What was most important was creating and maintaining the image of town where none of this stuff happened, where all the town officials were stalwart and honest, where there was no graft, no corruption, no traded votes, no cops beating their wives, no bank presidents caught driving drunk … Mayberry. Only a token Otis the drunk, who never hurt a fly.
    In a sense, the “comment” section of local papers lets us all see the real people of our own towns, how they really think, what they really want to say, let loose by the cloak of anonymity. It is vile, frightening and filthy, yes, but it is undeniably honest. The people writing the most hateful and spiteful and racist stuff are the most honest. They are not doing this to make a goof. They mean it. So, in a sense, it’s important that outlet is available. Know your enemy. At least, if they go real whacko, you can get their ISP and give it to the cops.
    Just a thought.
    Thx.

  5. “Local newspapers’ comment sections are among the most vile and racist places on the web” only because they are tacked on as an afterthought to a static document. If the author of the article were to interact with commenters and guide/moderate the discussion, like most bloggers do in their posts, it wouldn’t be graffiti. They would absolute add something, something very valuable, to the paper’s content if the author listens and talks with the audience. If that is not a newspaper reporter’s job, get rid of the comment section altogether.

  6. The comment thread at Kos is weird. Here’s the thing–I’d still be reading our local paper if I felt like it gave me something that I could get better, faster, and more in depth than I could get it via the internet. But it doesn’t do any of those things. The fast I can get from the instant e-mail updates from CNN and the digests and links I get from blogs. More in depth? For national issues, I still read the WaPo and Times, though usually via links from, yes, blogs. For statewide issues, there are state blogs, like Colorado Pols, that give me all that and more. About the only thing I feel is lacking in my news is the truly local stuff–citywide issues, regional stuff.
    But here’s the thing–I don’t think I get those from my local paper either. They’ve cut back on the in-depth reporting on city council meetings, on the various local commissions. And when they do cover those things, they’re usually done with such a political bias, or a lack of context, or a clear understanding of the issues, or all of the above, that is just isn’t worth my time to read. And don’t get me started on the comment threads on local articles. Jeebus. (Frankly, Doug, it scares me to know my neighbors are like that underneath. That’s something I’d just rather not know about.)
    The problem isn’t Craigslist. I never read the classifieds anyway–the paper was always about the news for me. The problem is that newspapers aren’t giving me what I want. Other sources are, so that’s where I put my eyeballs. It really is that simple.

  7. Buggy has it in a 2 paragraph package. The only thing I might add is that the local paper has not only cut local but also national & world coverage that is different and quality from what is available from other sources. I remember a time it wasn’t tedious to look for and read the remote office stories published under a byline instead of AP or Reuters, but that has been gone for a long time.
    And as for the comment sections being vast vile oceans of scum – I point directly at the Des Moines Register.

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