December 27, 2008

PAUL MULSHINE BLOWS IT. In this Wall Street Journal column, he manages to conflate punditry with reporting (following in Nick Lemann’s footsteps) while simultaneously engaging in a bit of misleading quotage that thoroughly undercuts his point.

My point, as quoted in his column, is that punditry is easy, but that reporting is harder, and more valuable, and not done enough by Big Media. In making the point, I quoted another blogger, whom Mulshine doesn’t identify — because the blogger I quoted was Iraq documentarian and blogger J.D. Johannes, who in fact does real reporting of the sort that Big Media folks all too often don’t. As J.D. comments:

I do not know why Mr. Mulshine did not give my name. If he had, it would undercut many of his statements. A news man of his esteem would have surely googled me and found that I was doing exactly what he says bloggers are not doing and nearly beating a major Hollywood director and billionaire .

(Or perhaps he did google me and for some reason thought I was not the type to read the Wall Street Journal.)

The hear-say quote, and this particular usage by Mr. Mulshine, is one of the reasons why blogs have succeeded–the core news consumer does not like hear-say quotes and does not want bland executive summaries for the “casual reader.” The core news consumer wants hard news without bias and expert opinion.

Mr. Mulshine’s use of a misleading hear-say quote explains well the demise of his beloved newspaper.

It seems that often when big-media types write about the failings of blogs, they engage in the kind of lazy inaccuracy they condemn. In an earlier column, Mulshine wrote:

Anyone can travel to a war zone and write about it. I would strongly recommend this for any of the critics of the MSM who are seeking to get out the real truth about Iraq. Go for it, guys. War coverage is great fun. One word of caution, though: Don’t lose your heads in all the excitement.

That, of course — as Mulshine should have known then, and now — is exactly what J.D. Johannes does — along with Michael Yon, Michael Totten, Bill Roggio, and others in the blogosphere. Mulshine, meanwhile, brags about having once covered the Toms River Regional Board of Education in New Jersey. That’s worthy work, of course, but if his reportage there was as poor as his work in the Wall Street Journal, then — oh, who am I kidding? “If”?

Anyway, it’s certainly true that bloggers as a class are more competition for careless pundits like Mulshine than for go-getter reporters who find out things that people don’t know, and report them truthfully. It’s also true that those go-getter reporters who put the truth first are pretty scarce in the world of Big Media reporting, and that management shows no sign of wanting more of them, and many signs of wanting attitude-mongers like, well, Mulshine. This is, as I’ve noted before, a dumb business strategy, which explains in part why newspapers are doing so badly. For more on that, see this thoughtful piece by Evan Coyne Maloney. Also, these thoughts from Jay Rosen. And here’s my diagnosis from 2002:

Though webloggers do actual reporting from time to time, most of what they bring to the table is opinion and analysis – punditry, in short. (No surprise here – people have been sharing opinions forever, and may well have an inborn drive to do so. Plus, you can opine without leaving your computer, while reporting hard news is hard work.)

This means that Big Media organizations should still have a strong competitive advantage where actual newsgathering is concerned. The problem is that most big organizations have cut back on newsgathering, treating news as a commodity product to be obtained from wire services while eliminating foreign and regional bureaus. Instead, Big Media organizations decided some years ago that they would focus on “news analysis” and punditry. That’s, well, because you can opine without leaving your computer, while reporting hard news is hard work. (And expensive).

Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out very well. The move to analysis and punditry was driven, in no small part, by corporate pressures to cut costs, pressures that accompanied the consolidation and corporatization of the news media. . . . But actual information about what’s happening is still mostly the province of professional journalism, and that’s less likely to change. I can imagine a decentralized amateur news service (a sort of Slashdot on steroids) but I think something like that will be slow in coming.

So there you are. Not that this will stop a future Mulshine (or Lemann) from repeating the same errors. Apparently, nothing does . . . .

UPDATE: A comment from Jay Rosen. Plus, once again, I lack fire.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More discussion here.

MORE: Also here.

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