All right, look. I don’t want to get into it over the iPad or whatever the fuck new shiny thing is coming along tomorrow that will “save newspapers.” It’sbullshit, I’ve been saying it’s bullshit, you all know about it.
But leaving aside any discussion of Brooks the human being, this
latest column of his is something that has to be discussed. The
propagandistic argument he makes about the dangers of “populism” is
spelled out here as clearly as you’ll ever see it expressed in print,
and this exact thing is a key reason why so much of the corruption that
went on on Wall Street in the past few decades was allowed to spread
That’s because this argument is tacitly accepted by almost everyone
in our business, and most particularly is internalized in the thinking
of most newspaper editors and TV news producers, who over time develop
an ingrained habitual fear of publishing material that seems hysterical
This certainly has an effect on the content of news reporting, but perhaps even more importantly, it impacts thetoneof
news coverage, where outrages are covered without outrage, and stories
that are not particularly “balanced” in reality — stories that for
instance are quite plainly about one group of people screwing another
group of people — become transformed into cool, “objective” news
stories in which both the plainly bogus version of events and the real
and infuriating version are given equal weight.
I’ve said before that the tendency to mistake passion for bias is far more destructive than any bias ever could be, because it makes stakeholders suspect and gives automatic preference to any claim of impartiality. It makes argument distasteful. I cannot comprehend this, and I feel like it’s a recent thing, like in order to differentiate themselves from cable/radio screamers who scream all the time about stuff that isn’t worth screaming about, newspapers decided to never scream ever no matter what, and somehow that evolved into this milquetoast bullshit where the only people who get to talk are the ones who have nothing to say.
I don’t get this because I don’t think argument is distasteful. Argument isheaven. Argument is like cotton-candy-covered chocolate caffeine sex all day long on acid, argument is why we’re on this planet. God dances when His children defeat Him in argument. Argument is how we learn and grow and push and change. It’s how welive. If you’re not here to argue — and I don’t mean that literally, you can say just as much with your actions — but if you’re not here to say something somehow in whatever voice you possess, then God, I don’t know what to do with you.
When you lionize the refusal to raise one’s voice no matter the provocation, when you chalk an automatic in the loss column because somebody feels something, you’re making the world around you just a little more dead. And you can put that shit on an iPad or on a piece of paper or in a newscast or in a Happy Meal, and the delivery mechanism won’t matter. People won’t pay for it. And you know what? Even if you gave it to them for free, they won’t read it. Because it doesn’t matter.
A good newspaper bleeds love for its community, cheerleads shamelessly for the betterment of all the people in its purview, argues passionately on behalf of those who cannot argue for themselves, and fights for what its leaders have decided to fight for, loudly and boldly and without apology. A lot of people think the problem with our elite media is that they fight for the powerful and comfortable and there’s lots of remedies prescribed for that (Stop hiring white college grads! Stop hiring inside the community! Stop hiring outside the community! Stop unpaid internships! Start unpaid “citizen journalism!” GAH, to all of it.). I think the problem is they don’t fightat all because they consider it uncouth.
When you stifle the voices of passionate debate because they upset people, when you choose the blandest and least offensive tack in every situation, when you work so hard to fight for nothing that anyone with an opinion is automatically ruled out of order, you are not creating a newspaper that deserves to survive, no matter what format you decide to put it in. And that’s what’s happened over the past 20 years (one could argue, over the past 60). We’ve made ourselves smaller and smaller, hoping we’ll upset nobody, and it’s worked. Nobody’s upset. Nobody’s upset at all.
That’s a problem Steve Jobs has no possible way of solving for us.