Must read: “A Shameless Defense of Journalism”

Illustration by John Hogan via

This article on Vanity Fair’s site by Matt Pressman truly was a great find by the NY Times Media Decoder blog. As David Carr writes over at Decoder:

Matt Pressman takes on the eternal question of why people find media and its practitioners so unlikable. He cites a study from the Pew Research Center that ranks journalist just below snake’s bellies in the social hierarchy.

Pressman goes through the list of complaints levied against journalists everywhere, including education, liberalism, conservatism, and other insults that also seemed common during the 2004 elections. I thought his take on the digital aspect of the industry was a fascinating justification:

4. We couldn’t keep up with the digital revolution

One reason traditional media have been killed by technologies such as Craigslist and TiVo is that instead of trying to devise a new business model before it was too late, we became more inflexible and stuck in our ways. So our current parlous state is due to our complacency—serves us right!

Validity: 4. Undoubtedly, most media organs were far too slow to recognize the game-changing nature of the Web. But what established companies have been able to generate big money online? And the daily newspapers have a good excuse for failing to plan ahead: they were busy putting out the paper every day.

I have to say, though, his argument falls apart in that last sentence. “Putting out the paper every day” is in no way a valid excuse for falling behind the eight ball of journalism. Ever have that teacher who reminded you that doing what you’re supposed to will only get you to the middle of the pack? Prognosticators couldn’t predict *how* big instant, social, and digital media would become – but someone could have at least had an eye out.

In fact, they are beginning to get there. The future is the journalist who can do everything from write a newspaper article to code it onto the Web site to getting reactions from people on a flip cam and editing it for Web video content. Note – that journalist is still contributing to getting the paper out – but, as Jason Jones said earlier this month as he was tormenting the New York Times – it’ll be “aged media” by the time the newspaper is printed.

So, I’m changing your validity score, Mr. Pressman, to a 7. The ignorance of an argument involving printing presses is at worth at least three more points.


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