New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson gave a lecture last week called "The Future of the New York Times." In it she drops this bomb:
She distinguished the Times from many bloggers, saying, "We believe in a journalism of verification rather than assertion."
Oh really, do you? Would that be anything like the verification done on Jayson Blair when he fabricated his own fabrications while the Times socially promoted him up through the ranks based on skin color? Or would that be like the verification done in the attribution of Rick Bragg's bylines? Or perhaps she's talking about the verification done on Nik Cohn's fabrications. Because I'm sure she's not talking about Michael Finkel's fabrications or A.J. Lieblings fabrications, or even when Jesse McKinley accepted a $50,000 "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" makeover. Maybe she's talking about the verification done on Bernard Weinraub's plagiarism, I just don't know.
Jonathan Last writes about the evils of the Internet for the Philly Inquirer, and by evil he means blogs.
But the biggest evil of blogs is that first flaw, blogging's original sin: the discounting of news-gathering in favor of news analysis. Bloggers are forever telling us how easy journalism is, yet very few of them have ever really practiced it. Sure, they may have written opinion pieces that compare favorably to the work of Molly Ivins or Ann Coulter, but opinion writing is a tiny - and let's be honest, inconsequential - corner of the journalism world. Real journalism - the practice of adding to the store of public knowledge by reporting news - is a difficult, thankless, and often unpleasant task. Bloggers want no part of it.
If opinion writing is such a tiny and inconsequential corner of journalism, then why don't they give it up? Why do newspapers fill their pages with opinion and columnists? Why don't they just reprint bloggers? Why do they feel the need to endorse political candidates for office, thereby alienating themselves from half of their readers, if it is so inconsequential?
I don't know who told Mr. Last that bloggers were supposed to begin traveling the world doing enterprise reporting. That's never been the premise. Bloggers are not replacements for reporters, they are replacements for columnists and ombudsman, especially for newspapers whose ombud is a journalism insider or is afraid to step on toes or who may not exist at all. The big problem is not bloggers who act like reporters, but reporters who act like bloggers. How many times have you read something where you know the reporter never left their desk? Where the story is not advanced? Where the sources are all online? Or where the premise of the story is based on a "truthiness" fiction? (Heck, sometimes they win Pulitzers for it.)
"Real" journalism might be a difficult and unpleasant task but you'll find no sympathies here. And as for being thankless, give me a break. Tell it to the drive by media who celebrated their Pulitzers for "The Best Bush Zinger of the Year." The only industry that pats themselves on the back as much as journalism is the movie industry, which is ironic because it's also the only other industry that thrives by turning out products that people don't like.