George Packer at The New Yorker this week offered up a comforting etiological myth regarding "The Real Crisis in Journalism," suggesting "It’s true that journalism is in crisis, but the crisis has nothing to do with the work journalists actually do."
In what's either a disingenuous or ahistorical lament, Packer declared that, "It’s easy to feel that the very task of reporting and writing in depth,
at length, and in complex detail is somehow to blame for [journalism's] problems." But he reassured his peers with a pat on the head that they need not straightaway put on the hair shirt. You see, "The crisis in journalism is a business crisis, and it’s been
going on for twenty years," which of course roughly corresponds to the
arrival of the Internet, which led to all those nasty bloggers, podcasters, celebrity Twitter feeds, etc., that allegedly took away the media's mojo.
IMO, though, the Internet only exacerbated journalism's problems, it did not cause them. Last year, this blog offered a contrary view: "Some say the internet is killing the newspaper industry but the truth is
it was dying long before most readers had a PC and an email account.
(Ask the former employees of the Dallas Times Herald and the Houston Post.)
Grits instead believes a major underlying reason for journalism's
decline is a preponderance of poor quality, formulaic journalism that
fails to meet popular needs for engaging the democratic process."
The rise of alternative web media accelerated journalism's decline, no doubt. But the deeper crisis predated that development and continues independent of it, such that Christopher Lasch could write (quite accurately) in 1990 that, "Much of the press, in its eagerness to inform the public, has become a conduit for the equivalent of junk mail. Like the Post Office - another institution that once served to extend the sphere of face-to-face-discussion and to create 'committees of correspondence' - it now delivers an abundance of useless, indigestible information that nobody wants most of which ends up as unread waste." How much more true is that today? That's the real crisis in journalism, of which the business crisis is but a symptom.