Don’t let the losers — or the libertarians — write history

When I clicked on this link — When Losers Write History – Reason Magazine — I was optimistic. Two thoughtful Facebook friends of mine had shared it independently. I agree with the overlooked notion that newspaper journalists see the decline of their own industry with more bias than they’d view, say, the decline of the textile industry. The author, Matt Welch, was one of the better reads back in my media-wonk days.

And then, sadly, he gets it horribly wrong.

The knee-jerk journalists’ reaction will be that all these amateurs are unqualified to do “journalism.” To me, some are and some aren’t — frankly, with today’s tools, any reasonably intelligent person can do “journalism” of some worthwhile form.

But Welch commits three sins of omission:

1. We can all benefit from the feedback of an editor and the humbling process of paying dues. Today’s 20something bloggers rarely have that experience. Having a high school cross-country coach or small-town government official yell at you builds character and professionalism. (That said, a lot of 20somethings in traditional journalism don’t get this experience, either — people who go straight from college to The Washington Post end up as horrible writers on suburban beats.)

2. True investigative journalism costs a lot of money — possibly six figures for one project. No, this doesn’t describe the daily output of a typical news organization. Yes, it’s important to have a solid organization that can support it.

3. Remember when the Olympics were “amateur”? That meant the Games drew two types of people — the idle rich and state-supported propaganda drones. They were the only ones who could afford it. As the Olympics have loosened restrictions on amateurism, a true meritocracy has evolved, and the quality of athletes has soared. Do we want to go backwards in journalism, with the only participants being the independently wealthy, the childless (hey, parenting takes away a lot of your blogging time) or those supported by governments and (no offense to Mr. Welch) think tanks?

Add those issues to the mix, and we’re no longer talking about Welch’s analogy of replacing A&P with a mix of Wal-Mart and Whole Foods.


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