Stick to the facts: no one’s bailing out newspapers

For an Internet reporter, the press table at a Senate hearing on the gloomy future of journalism is an odd thing. You’re surrounded by print reporters who are all too aware that their medium is on its way out. They joke about being dinosaurs and grumble about the union dispute that nearly shuttered the Boston Globe. One is the Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News, whose CEO and publisher is brought in to testify about how the thriving traffic to the paper’s Web site isn’t nearly enough to sustain the newsroom that produces the content.

It’s an altogether dreary affair, full of gallows humor and unsatisfying assurances from Arianna Huffington and Google’s Marissa Mayer that quality journalism will flourish on the Internet.

David Simon, creator of the HBO series “The Wire,” [told a Senate panel at a hearing yesterday](/bus-news/article.php/3819151/Does+Government+Belong+in+the+News+Industry.htm) that “aggregating Web sites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth.” But with the “first-generation reporting” that they piggyback on eroding, “the parasite is killing the host.”

Well, new media enthusiasts will swing a heavy axe at those comments. It’s easy to find examples of original, quality reporting produced by members of the digital press corps. But far more plentiful are the half-cocked screeds hastily assembled by the shrieking hyenas of the blogosphere.

Consider Joe Weisenthal’s take on yesterday’s affair at Silicon Alley Insider. Writing about a hearing that he apparently didn’t see and linking to an AP story, Weisenthal headlines his blog post, “The Ridiculous Newspaper Bailout Begins.”

There was talk about a bailout at yesterday’s hearing. It came in the context of categorical opposition to any such proposal from all parties present.

Yet, Weisenthal writes, “Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry held a hearing on the ‘Future or Journalism’ — but we’ll just call it what is was: A hearing about a possible newspaper bailout.

“See, politicians aren’t like us. When we get concerned about newspapers becoming ‘endangered species,’ we talk about it or discuss it. When politicians do, they pass laws to deal with it. A hearing isn’t just an idle event.”

Voicing an opinion about what, if anything, should be done about newspapers is one thing. But writing such rubbish and passing it off as authoritative?

There is much crowing on the Internet about the demise of what has been dubbed legacy media. A great many of the commentators exhibit the Schadenfreude that is the distinct privilege of the winning team, and what comes through is an abiding contempt for the haughty righteousness of the old media. But much of it also contains lucid analysis that at times manages to resist the urge to taunt the leaders of a dying industry. SAI has a delightfully consistent pattern of flitting between both forms.

At the same time, when you come across a completely inaccurate blog post linking to an AP story that at least got the facts down, you wonder if Simon didn’t have it right about the parasite and the host.

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