The Bold Old Media

Jeff Jarvis takes exception to a speech by John Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and the Knight Visiting Lecturer at Harvard University, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors,

Come down from the pulpit, Mr. Carroll — and watch that first step, it’s a doozie. Let’s look at how most journalism in most papers on most days is executed: What boldness is needed in sports? In movie reviews? In TV listings? In cutting-and-pasting wire-service stories? In retyping press releases in the business section? In attending and regurgitating press conferences? In writing fluffy lifestyle stories? In gardening columns? In comics? Carroll chants the oft-cited notion that journalism comes only from newspapers: “This is our role: Newspapers dig up the news. Others repackage it.” Well, that is often true and I do not want to lose that digging. But let’s be clear that newspapers aren’t the only ones who can dig; in fact, I argue that they should be enabling more in the community to dig with them — and then they’d have more journalism to repackage. And again, let’s make clear that most days on most pages most newspapers do themselves repackage — from wire services and press releases and now even from the internet. Now I don’t have anything against most of that; in fact, the more useful the type on a page is to a reader’s life, the better, and the more efficient papers can be with what doesn’t matter so they can concentrate on what does matter — local reporting — the better. But let’s not pretend that editors’ every working hour is consumed with high acts of journalism: investigating wrongdoing in government and standing up for Everyman.

That’s exactly right. There is some yeoman reporting out there in the press, including Carroll’s former paper, but there’s also a lot of fluff and dreck.

It’s ironic that Google decided a few months ago to purge most of the blogs, including this one, from their news service. What they’re left with, though, is hundreds of different headlines to the same AP and Reuters wire stories. It’s not clear to me how much of a contribution that makes.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Roger says:

    The larger point Carroll is making is a valid one. He’s talking about the dumbing down of the fourth estate so that it is becoming more a simple entertainment medium rather than the critical public service it once was just to ensure a fatter bottom line for shareholders. The media is drifting even further from the function it served, say in the days of the Federalist Papers. Sure, James, not every story is of crucial importance by any means. That doesn’t mean editors should turn a blind eye to the concern Carroll addresses. From Jefferson on down, those Americans who value our freedoms have understood the importance of holding our leadership accountable by shining a strong light on their actions and keeping the people aware of what their servants are up to.