Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Here's the thing about news media: it is important for it to operate locally and on a larger scale, but being local is difficult because of the economies of scale. It is important, for example for a city of Buffalo to have a newspaper with someone who writes about Congress and about the school board elections in West Seneca. One is concerned about what happens in your kid's high school, and one, maybe, about what your kid will be doing after high school. The problem is that school board guy is the guy who is the more irreplaceable and the guy who is more likely to be marginalized out of existence. Anybody can write about what Obama should do about Afghanistan-- hell, I might any minute now-- but real shoe leather reporting is a rare skill, and one that has never been over-valued in the marketplace. The poor bastard that has to go to the school board meeting and write it up is living large if the Buffalo News pops for dinner at Burker King on the way home, but David Broder doesn't lunch on such pedestrian fare. We have gone from a time when the country could support a fair number of papers with local bureaus all over the country to a time when only one can. The Washington Post, which was probably the last paper to actually have a realistic shot at becoming a national paper in the way that the New York Times has been has announced that it is closing its remaining domestic bureaus around the country. It has New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and they are being offered reassignments in Washington. Three other reporters are being canned. So what does that mean? It means that the Post will be using free lance stringers or syndicated writers to cover the financial capital of the country, the West Coast, which manufactures intellectual content and related technology for the world, and the Midwest. Over the past decade, The Post has closed down its bureaus in Austin, (arguably the intellectual capital of the Southwest), Denver (perhaps the best vantage from which to understand the New West) and Miami (indisputably the capital of the Caribbean region). This means, in effect, that the morning newspaper of American government will no longer be reporting on the rest of the country. It means that information in the capital is now more homogenized than perhaps anywhere else in the country. This is a very bad thing. Blogs aren't going to fill the gap lost by not having "[the]knowledge and experience of reporters who come to understand the local issues, personalities and culture of other regions by living there, " because bloggers aren't going out and doing the reporting, and bloggers are never going to replace local reporters working for local news papers going out and figuring out who took what from who, then writing about it. In a crazy kind of irony "Freedom of the press belongs to the guy who owns one stops being true once everybody owns one; noise drowns out signal.