Luckily for me, where I get on the Commuter Rail, about an hour 15 from Boston, there are no places to pick up a copy of the free Daily, the Boston Metro. I have taken to playing solitaire on my cell phone on the subway when I have meetings around the city- it seems to me more stimulative of my brain. But once in a while I will pick up the Boston Metro, and when I do I am always reminded why I don’t. Because if I spent all the time I’d like to invest in responding to the subtle racism, classism, trivialization and straight up lies in this paper, I would not have any time for the rest of my work. The Metro, it seems, is a perfect example of everything wrong with the newspaper industry today- it is chock full of AP, cutesy sidebars to supplement its tabloid-esque articles and sensational coverage of the statehouse and city hall.
Last week, while reading the Metro, I stumbled upon an article detailing the downfall of John Edwards following the revelation of his affair. Following the layout of a website, the bottom panel lays out other presidential cheats (Clinton a glaring omission), with no by-line, and goes on to note factually, that John F. Kennedy had a torrid affair with Marilyn Monroe and it somehow never became a scandal. That’s just a factual untruth. You apparently in this hey-day of newspaper greatness can print blatant rumor and conjecture (50 year old rumor and conjecture at that) and call it news. And now they want a bail-out. Business Insider had some concerns about a bailout, including:
- Newspapers only ever thrived because they were monopolies.
- 66% of people get their news from TV.
- Newspaper owners think Google is a parasite.
- Ask them when they last bought a paper, much less subscribed.
- A government subsidized “free press” isn’t a “free press” at all.
Moreover, newspapers aren’t working. Investing in something that has time and time again not worked qualifies you, by most standards, for lock up in a mental institutions (trying the same thing and expecting different results). To that end, we need to invest in new and innovative strategies. If you need more proof, just look to the newspapers own coverage of the meltdown.
Here, the Metro’s own blah coverage of the crisis pits Rupert Murdoch vs. Arianna Huffington in web-like graphics with out of context quotes. The article itself has no insight, no conclusions, and no reporting. If we have an uninformed and unengaged populous, herein lies a major problem.
Luckily, David Simon has a solution. The amazing co-creator of The Wire testified before congress last week noting that neither online media nor newspapers seems to have the solution to this crisis in their stash.
Why? Because high-end journalism – that which acquires essential information about our government and society in the first place — is a profession; it requires daily, full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out until the best of them know everything with which a given institution is contending. For a relatively brief period in American history – no more than the last fifty years or so – a lot of smart and talented people were paid a living wage and benefits to challenge the unrestrained authority of our institutions and to hold those institutions to task.
By all conventional measures, it seems that new media doesn’t yet have the capacity to do this and traditional newspapers don’t have the will. I hope we can look to models (that should be well-funded) like Open Media Boston to steer us in the right direction to the future. With a strong presence on the ground, I have no doubt that, given more resources this model could hold power accountable, ensure democracy, and set a high journalistic standard.