Roger L. Simon

A Wounded Animal Strikes Back

For many years, most of their lives probably, New York Timesmen and women have worked under the prideful assumption they were employed by the world’s most important and prestigeous purveyor of news. They had some justification for that. The Times is and was often well written and it has amazing reach. It was indeed the newspaper of record. But history has moved on, as it has a habit of doing, this time driven by the seemingly inexorable forces of Internet technology. Those same forces are questioning whether one source – or even a group of sources – should have a monopoly on such power. No wonder these same Times people are now feeling wounded and harrassed. I would too were I in their place.

One of the early reflections of this pain is an article in today’s NYT – Web Offers Hefty Voice to Critics of Mainstream Journalists. It begins:

Practicing cheap and dirty politics, playing fast and loose with the facts and even lying: Accusations like these, and worse, have been slung nonstop this year.

The accused in this case are not the candidates, but the mainstream news media. And the accusers are an ever-growing army of Internet writers, many of them partisans, who reach hundreds of thousands of people a day.

“Many of them partisans”? I would better say all of them partisans, including me. Who isn’t partisan? Jim Ruttenberg, the author of this article? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, I’d bet my house Jim has a whole slew of opinions, known and unknown, assuming he’s a person and not a cyborg.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Journalists feel on the defensive because they depend as a profession on the pretense of impartiality, something we all suspect no one has or is. Jay Rosen, blogger and chairman of the NYU journalism department is correct when he tells Ruttenberg that’s what’s really going on is “… really an attack not just on the liberal media or press bias, it’s an attack on professionalism itself, on the idea that there could be disinterested reporters.”

Okay, guilty as charged. But how to resolve this without yelling at each other into perpetuity, something I don’t want to do, I can assure you? We can all (bloggers and journalists) attempt to be as an impartial as possible, but I don’t think that will work, certainly not without admitting our biases up front. The NYT, to its credit, was honest enough to do that, declaring itself a “liberal” newspaper through its ombudsman Daniel Okrent. Most bloggers I know are pretty up front. But the real guardian of honesty is diversity – the market itself. Despite its wounds, the NYT et al are going to have to live with a new reality. We’re here to stay and there will only be more of us.