Jay Rosen has a good post up about the Times he-said/she-said Breitbart coverage:
The logic of the “we have no idea who’s right” report involves a flight to safety. Confronted with a figure of controversy, for whom there are many knives drawn, the safe choice is to do the Rorschach thing. “Each side sees what they want.” What the story-teller sees is that: two radically incommensurate views.
But at a certain point in the public decay of that style, the equation flips around. The once “safe” choice becomes the riskier option. That point is reached when enough people begin to mistrust viewlessness and demand to know what the writer thinks, even though they also know that they may not agree.
For those people, the “Rorschach” device scans as cluelessness or arrogance, or both. The very risk to reputation that the author wanted to avoid by refusing to stake a truth claim is brought on by… refusing to make a truth claim! Which doesn’t mean that the remedy is to “choose sides.” It’s harder than that. One actually has to make sense and nail things down.
And to make it even trickier, who really knows when this flip-over point has been reached?
I don’t know about the general public, but in the blogs I read and the comments section here, this point was reached long ago. Jay is excited about NPR’s new editorial policy that actually allows reporters to say that a claim made by a politician is false (here’s an example). I’m not as excited, because I see that as a small change in the right direction that’s probably too late.
Mainstream journalism, especially the newspaper variety, is in Kodak territory. They realize that what they’re doing isn’t working, and they’re changing ever-so-slowly to try to catch up, but their competitors have moved so far ahead that the print dinosaurs can’t simultaneously shrink their bloated print business, invest in their digital site, and jettison thirty years of mediocre journalistic practice. Perhaps they’ll follow NPR’s lead and produce more relevant journalism, but their business model is still broken. Paywalls for local papers, which is where Gannett is going in my market, are death. The other local media outlets (mostly TV stations and some alt papers) will cannibalize readership because the product produced by your average Gannett local just isn’t worth much money.
Even the Times paywall is probably a short-lived and tepid success. My free Times subscription lapsed in January, and since then I’ve been subsisting on the twenty or so free views I get every month, mostly out of stubbornness, but also because I want to see what else is out there. I may subscribe, but a business model that expects consumers to subscribe to a digital product for $15/month just isn’t sustainable when a lot of consumers will want to have 3 or 4 subscriptions. Somebody’s going to undercut that — some company is going to do for journalism what Netflix did to cable TV, giving us content from a number of sources for a lot less per month than the incumbents want us to pay. I’m afraid that the big print companies just can’t shrink quickly enough to do that at any kind of a profit.
I just hope that whatever comes out of the shitstorm that’s hitting journalism right now will be able to write a Breitbart obit that says something more than “opinions differ”.