Newspapers Writing for Selves, Not Readers?
Walter Pincus points out that the Washington Post won nineteen Pulitzers in the last decade, but lost more than 120,000 readers in that time. “Why? My answer, unpopular among my colleagues, is that while many of these longer efforts were worthwhile, they took up space and resources that could have been used to give readers a wider selection of stories about what was going on, and that may have directly affected their lives.”
Now, I’m not sure there’s any evidence that striving for Pulitzers is a major factor in the decline of newspapers. But there is something to the larger point about the mainstream press striving to produce news they consider “fit to print” (that thing which the NYT claims to give you all of) rather than things their potential customers are actually interested in reading.
Matt Yglesias cites David Simon’s sneer, “The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I will no longer be worried about journalism.” Matt rightly notes that very few people are interested in reading the resulting reportage:
Most people I know are pretty ill-informed about local issues in Washington, DC. And while it’s true that the coverage of local issues in DC offered by The Washington Post is not all it could be, the fact of the matter is that most people don’t even know what you could be learning by reading the Post. Not only is it going to be intrinsically difficult to ever find a viable revenue model for paying a reporter to cover the zoning board if people don’t want to read about the zoning board, I’m not actually sure how much social value is created by unread articles about zoning boards.
Quite so. And, presumably, part of the reason WaPo doesn’t have the best possible local coverage is that its management realizes this. Further, as Matt also notes, Simon’s premise isn’t even true. Lots of bloggers are doing hyper-local better than the newspapers, as they’re written by people passionate about a niche for people passionate about a niche. The guy who would be covering DC zoning issues for the Post almost surely is doing that biding his time until he can get a more interesting beat.
Photo by Flickr user Matt Callow, used under Creative Commons license.