David Simon Whines About The State Of Journalism While Undermining His Own Point

from the oops dept

A year ago, David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, who is now much more well known as the executive producer of the TV show The Wire, complained in the pages of the Washington Post about how awful it was that newspapers were giving away their content for free online. He was confusing value and price — something that many people do these days. And now he’s back with another editorial, where he is again quite confused. The editorial picks up on similar complaints that the newspaper industry’s current troubles make it much more difficult to hold public officials accountable. In this case, he’s complaining about attempts by the Baltimore Police Department to keep the names of officers involved in violent altercations secret.

It’s an interesting opinion piece, but it pretty easily undermines its own reason for being. He’s talking about a specific story involving a specific police officer, where the police has refused to give out the information identifying the officer. As Simon points out, however, by law that information needs to be made available to everyone, not just reporters. And, in fact, Simon did get the information — and Simon is not a reporter any more. You know who didn’t get the information? The reporters at the Baltimore Sun. So… Simon is complaining that without a strong newspaper business, this information will remain hidden, even though he admits that legally the information needs to be available to non-reporters (like himself) which enabled him to get the information, and that the supposedly necessary newspaper reporters failed in getting the info.

In other words, he just totally debunked his own point. In this case, he was acting as a “citizen journalist,” digging up a piece of information because it was of great concern to him. Other citizen journalists could and would do the same thing. Yet, the supposedly very important “newspaper journalists” didn’t care enough to follow through and get the info. I’d say he just made a really strong point for why a concerned citizenry is a lot more effective at getting this particular bit of information and publicizing it than the press that he wishes would do it.

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Comments on “David Simon Whines About The State Of Journalism While Undermining His Own Point”

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wrong, boyo says:

Your deep, probing analysis

Simon actually told them he was reporting for the Washington Post which was where the article ended up. So much for citizen journalist.

Secondly, what Simon is saying is subtle, so of course you missed it. He was saying that certain basic facts — the identity of the officer involved for example — needed to stay in the public domain where such facts have always — until now, without a watchdog press — resided. Only then is it possible for a trained reporter to then work sources, check court files, exercise due diligence in learning the background and experience of the officer. In this case,that is what happened and the background suggested a pattern of some relevance.

The only whining here is you simplifying things to straw-man stature and then flailing about with half-hearted logic.

Jason says:

Re: Your deep, probing analysis

>Only then is it possible for a trained reporter to then work >sources, check court files, exercise due diligence in >learning the background and experience of the officer.

Trained reporter? What about a person just being able to go down to the police station and getting a police report? You have to be TRAINED to do THAT?

littlelazer says:

partnership would be beneficial to both sides

I agree with most of what you wrote here, but I think Simon could argue that since he’s a former reporter, this example doesn’t really disprove his point. His former life on the Sun is what enabled him to even know that they were required to give out this information by law. A regular person wouldn’t have that type of specialized knowledge.

I would like to see some kind of experiment where a newspaper that didn’t have enough resources to cover everything would actually state what information they needed, just to see if regular people would know the answers they needed to make a complete story, or if regular people would go out and find the answers because the story interested them.

For example, if the Sun told its readers that a police officer was involved in this incident that this information was required by law to be given out, and maybe even how to get it, I wonder how many people may have decided that they could do what Simon did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: partnership would be beneficial to both sides

Apparently you haven’t been paying attention, because that is exactly what has been happening for quite some time now. The problem is the assumption that everyone out there who are not reporters are ‘regular people’. There are many many professionals with a wealth of knowledge and stills. Most of the information I’ve gotten lately on issues I’m concerned with has come from non-journalistic sources, both because current journalism only focuses on ‘main-stream’ pop news and because they never follow up on ‘stories’ once the sensationalism has worn off.

Andrew says:

Simon has a point about covering beats like city hall – you don’t see bloggers covering the daily, mundane events like regular city council meetings and holding those in power responsible for the BS that comes out of their mouths. True, you also don’t see newspapers doing this anymore. Simon’s point is that journalists were the ones to consistently and successfully stay on top of these issues and call out government. Those who say that bloggers will carry the torch when the journalists & newspapers fail don’t take into account the amount of time required to fully cover a beat like city hall/council in a major city (especially given that many of these functions aren’t broadcast on TV/CSPAN their federal equivalents).

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Simon has a point about covering beats like city hall – you don’t see bloggers covering the daily, mundane events like regular city council meetings… True, you also don’t see newspapers doing this anymore.

if the bloggers don’t cover this stuff, and the journalists don’t either, the question isn’t “who is going to cover it?” but “why isn’t it being covered anymore?”

that’s the problem with news as a saleable product, if no one is buying it, it won’t get sold. you will run into this problem no matter who is doing the news.

Bill M. (profile) says:

Journalists, citizen and otherwise

I started out my professional life as a newspaper reporter. This story reminds me of two anecdotes from that time.

– My first “real” job as a journalist was writing for my local newspaper, I don’t think I was older than 18. The editor took my under his wing there. In addition to giving me an actual ID card for the paper, he presented me a certificate, printed on yellow stock [yellow journalism], labeled “Golden Typewriter.” The certificate imparted all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a journalist unto me. The joke about the certificate was that it was completely unnecessary.

– Later on as a cop beat reporter at a newspaper in Georgia, I was chatting with one of my police sources at the station one afternoon. Our talk turned to work and at one point he looked at me and said, “Don’t you guys have to be licensed or something?” I smiled and said, “Nope.”

Of course this was well before the dawn of the Web. Nevertheless, we should work hard to ensure that “citizen journalist” remains a redundant term.

wrong, boyo says:

trained reporter

Hey, Jason:

This may be a matter of reading comprehension, so let’s go through the content of the original article careful and slow:

From the article it is apparent that going down to the police station to get a report was not what broke this particular story. In the past, they would have denied you the report, first of all, and you would have to know enough about Maryland law and have the legal contacts to acquire enough leverage over the police official to pry the document free. That’s what Simon recounts.

But most importantly, the document alone was only the beginning. That would give you the name of the officer involved. After that, it was a veteran reporter, working police sources, knowing his beat, and getting people to talk to him about what truly happened in 2005. Remember, the 2005 reports were sanitized by the department. Simon got police sources to tell him what the officer actually did in that incident.

So much for walking into a police station and getting a report. If you tried to acquire the information that was ultimately reported by Simon you wouldn’t know who to call first or why they were hanging up on you. A beat reporter, a good one, knows his beat and has sources and uses them effectively. When he’s gone, those sources are gone too. And you’re standing there, with your thumb in your hole, holding a report full of lies and no context to go with it.

Everyone else’s job looks easy when you’ve never done it. Ignorance is a powerful sumbitch, and knowing what you don’t know about a world you’ve never actually visited is perhaps the first step to honest reckoning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Back Scratching

Local newspapers often have a “working relationship” with their local police departments. The department supplies the paper with tips and leads to “juicy” stories and in return the paper refrains from publishing certain “sensitive” information and maybe even just kills certain stories altogether. So, if the department doesn’t want a certain officer’s name disclosed, the paper doesn’t disclose it.

But citizen journalists usually have no such relationship with the police department and this is how citizen journalism can trump the newspapers. While the citizen journalist won’t get the friendly calls from the department tipping them to stories, they aren’t under any obligation to “play along” either and are free to dig for the dirt that the paper won’t print.

Laser Haas (profile) says:

Citizen Press

One day there shall be – a google type press for you and me.

Seeking out the facts to post anew the facts we need that are way overdue.

The Wall Street and Wilmington Journal did Order reporters off – the story of two law firms who ripped eToys illegal away while national press did scoff.

Like You Tube, Skype and Twitter all free
One day a google, yahoo news public, massive broadcast we will see.

Buggy whips, like paper news need go their way

For inovation and market demands to have their day.

Hannah says:

State of journalism

Simon?s viewpoint is correct if not for the non-journalist sources most of the news dies away without proper information, which is much required. He is done well to point out that the newspaper journalists have not taken complete responsibility in bring out the truth for the benefit of the public and it is citizen journalists who are trying to bring out such information. Unless the newspaper journalists follow up these cases properly the larger part of the public will remain ignorant or is that completely true come share your views on this

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