Listen up! Journalism needs to start believing in itself once again
‘Digital platforms are worthless without content. They’re shiny sacks with bells and whistles, but without content, they’re empty sacks’
Sometimes you’d go in a senior writer’s office as the drinking wore on and just see two feet sticking out from under the desk, like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the house falls on the witch.
It was a plummy time when a top editor could arrive in Paris and think nothing of sending a staffer from Paris to London to fetch a necktie he had left in his hotel room, or of sending a minion flying off to fetch a box of his favorite cigars, or of having articles about the Nicaraguan contras flown to his Martha’s Vineyard house so he could make sure the political tilt was right.
Mere writers got to expense dial-a-cabs out to the Hamptons after working late Fridays, at $150 a pop; and people rarely shared, snaking out to Sag Harbor in a pampered convoy.
Even then, it struck me that newsmagazines were doomed, with the strange bifurcation of reporters who were not allowed to write and writers who were not allowed to report. I reckoned the genre had a few years at most. When Time named the computer the Machine of the Year for 1982, we were still writing on typewriters.
A Time cover does not mean the same thing in a world of pure media entropy. Now, if something hits, it hits; if it doesn’t, there’s another thing coming along in a minute, somewhere else.
Journalism, spooked by rumors of its own obsolescence, has stopped believing in itself. Groans of doom alternate with panicked happy talk.
Before this sends yet another shudder through the media establishment, remember this: It may be a funeral for the Henry Luce era, but it’s not a funeral for us. We can’t wear black crepe every time someone prefers to read on a tablet; we can’t be like the auto industry and the GoP, who got accustomed to waiting around for it to be 1965 again.
It will be good if this moment provokes a reckoning about what really needs to be preserved in the culture, about what is valuable.
Many content providers and managers — formerly known as reporters and editors — have stopped believing in their own value and necessity. But the gatekeepers in the content class have to understand the world in which we’re living and wield their judgment.
Digital platforms are worthless without content. They’re shiny sacks with bells and whistles, but without content, they’re empty sacks.
It is not about pixels versus print. It is not about how you’re reading. It is about what you’re reading.
New York Times