Ed Driscoll

Speaking of History Being Written by the Losers...

As Matt Welch wrote this week at Reason:

Imagine for a moment that the hurly-burly history of American retail was chronicled not by reporters and academics but by life-long employees of A&P, a largely forgotten supermarket chain that enjoyed a 75 percent market share as recently as the 1950s. How do you suppose an A&P Organization Man might portray the rise of discount super-retailer Wal-Mart, or organic foods-popularizer Whole Foods, let alone such newfangled Internet ventures as Peapod.com? Life looks a hell of a lot different from the perspective of a dinosaur slowly leaking power than it does to a fickle consumer happily gobbling up innovation wherever it shoots up.

That is largely where we find ourselves in the journalism conversation of 2012, with a dreary roll call of depressive statistics invariably from the behemoth’s point of view: newspaper job losses, ad-spending cutbacks, shuttered bureaus, plummeting stock prices, major-media bankruptcies. Never has there been more journalism produced or consumed, never has it been easier to find or create or curate news items, and yet this moment is being portrayed by self-interested insiders as a tale of decline and despair.

You can witness Welch’s thesis play out in the contrast between these two quotes and the six decades that separates them:

  • “As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”

— H.L. Mencken, circa 1953; the quote is carved into the lobby of Mencken’s paper, the Baltimore Sun.

  • “Study: Just four jobs are worse than being a newspaper reporter.”

— Headline at journalism house organ Poynter.com today.

(Hat tip: 5’F.)