While I was doing my best to remain peaceful during the Christmas holidays, I couldn’t help but feel the blood rising after I read Paul Mulshine’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal about bloggers and the future of journalism, which I found via a Twitter link from my friend Jay Rosen (who was responding to one from Salon founder Scott Rosenberg about the piece). As I read it, I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind you get when you realize that an argument you thought had been settled years ago — and not just an argument, but a distorted and ultimately futile and unhelpful viewpoint — is still very much alive.
Mulshine’s piece (which is here) has the troll-ish headline “All I Wanted For Christmas Was A Newspaper,” and segues from a heart-warming anecdote about old-style reporters throwing copy out the window of the campaign bus into a discussion of how the Internet is “killing old-fashioned newspapers.” The passive-aggressive tone of the piece is somewhat understandable when you realize that Mulshine is an opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, a paper that recently laid off almost 50 per cent of its editorial staff. As a fellow journalist, I can sympathize with the writer’s desire to find a villain somewhere — but as Jay and a number of others have noted quite well since the piece appeared, focusing on the Web and bloggers is not only wrong, but dumb.
The easiest way to ensure the continued decline of newspapers is to see the issue in black-and-white terms — the way Mulshine appears to — as an “us vs. them” battle between traditional journalists and blogger pundits who do no original research and simply recycle the news they get from newspapers. That simplistic portrayal may get lots of fists waving at the next meeting of the Union of Unemployed Newspaper Workers, but it does no one any real good whatsoever. The reality is that the Internet and the Web — and yes, even blogs — are among the best things that have ever happened to the news business (notice that I didn’t say the news*paper* business), in the same way that the Internet is one of the best things to happen to the music business, even as it is killing the business of selling shiny metal discs.
I have no doubt that newspapers that see the potential of the Web and blogs and other interactive forms of media will be able to use them to enhance and improve the practice of journalism (as many already are) and will ultimately succeed. It’s possible that Mulshine is right, that the Internet is killing “old-fashioned” newspapers, and if we restrict that prediction to simply the old-fashioned ones, then I think it might actually be a good thing.