Bob Woodward Blames Google For 'Killing' Newspapers

from the maybe-he-should-investigate-that dept

Famed investigative reporter Bob Woodward apparently doesn’t spend much time “investigating” the state of the internet and online news before making statements. His latest is that he’s not thrilled with this whole internet thing, saying that Eric Schmidt’s tombstone should say “I killed newspapers.” He followed this statement up with this bit of pure cluelessness:

“There’s going to be something we’re going to miss in journalism that will be very regrettable. I hope the young people who have developed Facebook and Google will say, ‘We need to fix the information system and we need to get information to people that’s well-researched and investigated.’ ”

There’s something beautiful in a statement that disproves itself, and Woodward’s statement above fits into that category perfectly. After all, he made the statement above, and it’s pretty damn clear that he made it without investigating or researching what’s actually going on. The fact is that Woodward seems to have conflated two totally separate issues: the fact that services like Google and Facebook exist… and the fact that not all reporting is well-researched or investigated. The problem is that those two things are not particularly related, and most certainly not causal. There are, for example, plenty of reports in newspapers that are neither well-researched nor investigated. At the same time, there are plenty of things found online that are both well-researched and investigated. Of course, there’s plenty that isn’t… but that doesn’t harm the stuff that is. I never understand why people automatically think that all content online gets equal attention, and that any “bad” content somehow takes something away from good content.

But rather than researching and investigating what’s really causing problems for newspapers (hint: massive debt-load and an astounding failure to adapt to the times), Woodward simply does what he claims to hate, and makes uninformed and ignorant statements, blaming “search engines” for the “screwed up information system.” He also seems to think that while “people” exist offline, what happens online no longer involves people. The following paragraph, for example, makes no sense:

“Mark Felt, who was Deep Throat, didn’t have a Facebook account. He wouldn’t have had one. The news of Watergate came from human beings who were reluctant to talk. And the information was not on the Internet. You talk to college students and they say, ‘Instead of two years before Nixon resigned, it would have happened in a week.’ And I say, ‘Why?’ And they say, ‘Because, people would have gone to the Internet and found it.’ But I say, ‘It wasn’t there. Even if there was an Internet, the information would not be available.'”

Even if that latter exchange really happened (and I have my doubts), the whole thing seems to be based on the idea that a reporter today can’t cultivate sources online. While I’m not an investigative reporter by any stretch of the imagination, I can say pretty clear that the internet has been a massive boon in building up a variety of sources of information that simply wouldn’t be possible in the past. Just because it happens online doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve communicating with people. It’s just that the process becomes more efficient. He’s right that Mark Felt wouldn’t have put info online… but would it have been possible for reporters to cultivate a source like Feld online? Absolutely.

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Comments on “Bob Woodward Blames Google For 'Killing' Newspapers”

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Markus (profile) says:

Re: Seriously?

I would even take that a step farther. Manning’s leak might have remained anonymous had his accessing the information not been attributable to him. In the case of Mark Felt, he could easily have taken on an anonymous persona. Now, it might have created similar difficulties had he leaked actual documents, and posting anonymously does not generally carry the same amount of credibility as a “source” that wishes to remain anonymous, but never the less, to say that he definitely would not have posted something online is somewhat short sighted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not to mention the mainstream media simply censors so much of the information that it should report on, like the fact that copy’right’ doesn’t need to last 95+ years, like the skepticism that the founding fathers had on copy’right’ and patents and why they had that skepticism and how it applies today, like reporting on the domain seizures and how that’s negatively impacting our society (or at least they should fairly present that side of the issue instead of reporting the story from one side while leaving out facts and opinion that lend favor to the other side), and so much more.

and, to the extent that the mainstream media can get away with it, they blatantly lie if its favorable to their agenda, but they can no longer get away with it as easily because the Internet keeps them in check.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


I’d like to put forth an argument:

1) The percentage of internet content that the average internet user trusts to be well-researched and investigated is both

2) The percentage of newspaper and TV reporting that the average newspaper reader and TV watcher trusts to be well-researched and investigated is both

1 is greater than 2.

I realize I’m implying that the average internet user is better at detecting bullshit than the average “old media” consumer, but is that so hard to believe?

Just Tom says:

Get Off My Newspaper!

What a cranky old fart who doesn’t want to admit that the newer method is far more effective than the old gumshoe “investigative reporter” he both admires and espouses! His “issues” are rather whiny to say the least and most misguided because his paper paradigm blinds him to the most accessible means for news. The consumer now has the opportunity to not only read the news as it is ongoing but also instantaneously research any aspect of it that may catch a person’s fancy AND allow that person to be/get smarter for it!

EGADS! THE HORROR! As it is, I can’t stand reading newspapers unless I’m sitting on the toilet sending a fax and don’t have any other electronic means to access information. Besides, physical newspapers nowadays are only a step up from toilet paper in my opinion and occasionally have been used as such for my faxing. HOWEVER, if the news organization has an online presence, I’m more than willing to go to their website to read and get informed because they at least put it up there for someone like me.

Basically, I’ll stick to the maxim my fine German friend, Jurgen, told me back in the 80s:

So, anachronism named Bob Woodward, whine away because you won’t be missed and I won’t waste my throne time on your unresearched written drivel! Oh yeah, I have a fax for you too!

Anonymous Coward says:

His latest is that he’s not thrilled with this whole internet thing, saying that Eric Schmidt’s tombstone should say “I killed newspapers.”

If I was Eric Schmidt, I’d go ahead and have that put on my tombstone. Then I’d laugh a hearty laugh. Then I’d upload a video of that to YouTube and send Bob Woodward a link to it.
…Wait, does he even have e-mail?

“But I say, ‘It wasn’t there. Even if there was an Internet, the information would not be available.'”

Has this guy seriously never heard of Wikileaks? Newspaper comics have made Wikileaks references. Just how much of a Luddite is this guy?

Anonymous Coward says:

Well lets see…

When I read a newspaper I have to pay for to get, the news is rather old by today’s standards. I mean the news is at least a day old. It has to wait for the printing presses to print it, it has to go out on it’s distribution route, even before it makes it to my hands.

When I read news on the net, it’s pretty well recent. It’s considered old and stale at day one. Either something else is happening or the event being reported on is updated. Other than paying for net access, as Just Tom stated “if it’s free, it’s for me”.

Somehow I think that sort of destroys the older model of the newspaper in the physical form. That means the readership that is to eyeball the ads to support the paper ain’t there in the mass it was. The genie is out of the bottle and it isn’t going to go back in.

The main problem with the bitching and moaning looks fairly evenly spread out over legacy businesses that won’t go into the future where people are going but rather wants to remain where in the heydays, that was the way you did it to become successful. At the same time, the business controlled it’s entire span from beginning to end.

Now the span is now longer from beginning to end with only the business. If you want it to be successful on-line then participation is pretty much a necessity. You don’t seem to get much in the line of community feel from a static paper with only the pro line there.

Instead of talking about the news over the water cooler, now the news can be talked about at the source. The dialogues seem much more personal and even better informed than what occurred at the water cooler. It’s hard for me to see a downside to it in it’s present form.

RIP newspapers…

PaulT (profile) says:

Yeah, I agree that the guy sadly doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about since the Wikileaks saga proves him instantly wrong on most of his points. But, even so, newspapers are dying because of the actions of their employees, nothing less.

Newspapers have been dying for years because Murdoch and others are chasing tabloid sensationalism. Half-true stories about celebrities take precedent over real issues. Everything written is spun to within an inch of its life to fit a political agenda. Half of the content of the newspaper is either copied from press releases and AP feeds, or just completely made up. Why the hell would I want to buy a newspaper when free sources online are more reliable than the crappy fish wrappers?

Newspapers were dying under their own weight long before Facebook was even conceived, that’s for sure. Investigative journalism will continue, however.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

well mr woodward… how exactly do you explain the fact that i have not read (or trusted) my local newspaper because of their shoddy work and (at times) obvious political bias since the early 90’s… a time well before this new fangled googletubes?

no thank you, ill just stay here on the lawn and you may feel free to get the hell out of the house instead on this one…

Anonymous Coward says:

“There’s going to be something we’re going to miss in journalism that will be very regrettable.”

When newspapers have a provision that explicitly allow me to store, copy, redistribute the works, and make derivative works from the newspaper after no longer than a week, then I might miss their absence. Until then, I will not miss any publication that relies on 95+ year copy protection lengths to prevent us from storing the publication for our future use and for future generations by not explicitly having such a provision (though, for non-news publications, I will accept a year maybe).

I bet the newspapers will never re-post this snipped of mine and respond.

“I hope the young people who have developed Facebook and Google will say, ‘We need to fix the information system and we need to get information to people that’s well-researched and investigated.”

The Internet offers way more accurate information that’s far better investigated, from a wider array of viewpoints, than any newspaper that I’ve ever read. For example, it’s simply not accurate to say that 95+ year copy protection lengths are doing our society any good whatsoever, but your one sided newspaper will never even mention that. and, most importantly, many online publications allow me to preserve the works for future generations how I see fit and they don’t rely on 95+ year copy protection lengths to restrict such free speech to future generations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bob Woodward is right.

We will miss newspapers when they are gone.

Lets see what will we miss.

1. Ten pounds of adds which we do not use every Sunday morning.

2. Pounds of paper about things we have no interest in.

3. Lies, damn lies, and the outpouring of pundits whose sole objective is propaganda in support of some social engineering project designed to empower elicits.

Peter says:


What is discounted here is the power of social media to correct inaccuracies. What didn’t exist in Bob’s time, other than random letters to the editor, was the community correcting power of shared knowledge. You can post poorly researched and inaccurate info, and it is corrected by online communities, quickly! There is a reason that Wikipedia is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica!

ALANTONE (profile) says:

Can Bob Woodward say, "Wikileaks"

It is sad when anyone blames the greatest tool ever invented by man, The Internet, as killing newspapers or as Woodward said, “… screwed up information system”.

Wikileaks might have had the full story of Watergrate faster and better documented than what Mark Felt provided Woodward.

Finally, neither Facebook nor Google, “need to fix the information system”, as Woodward said they should, because they both are working exactly the way people need them to work. That is why they are so popular.

FarmerBob (profile) says:

Bob, you’ve had your 15 minutes of fame already. Kinda. Feeling left out and lost? Step aside and let those that will have theirs and in the “new” medium.

I like the idea of no longer killing millions of trees to make trash. If the publishers of the world, and I am a book publisher, are smart they will move right into the new medium just fine. But all too many are stuck in the mud and do not have the mental faculties to make the move.

The old guard always bucks when there is something new and I would imagine would revolt against “instant” crowd sourced fact checking. That can really ruin a guys day.

joe f. (profile) says:

Competition between newspapers is killing newspapers

What the internet did to newspapers was nationalize, if not globalize, their competition. Papers used to have a geographical near-monopoly that they leveraged to get ad revenue and newspaper sales. It is very rare for an American city to have two major newspapers, and has been for decades.

But the internet put local papers in direct competition with every other paper with a web page. Which other city’s paper (besides Washington) is going to compete with the NY Times’ international coverage? Which is going to compete with the Wall Street Journal’s business section? So what you’re getting is something more like the national magazine market which has been a couple-three majors and a field of minors for a while now: Car & Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend and then a lot of niche publications; Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and a another field of alternative and niche pubs.

What remains of the local market is keeping some papers afloat, but many will simply not have enough of a local market or won’t find a way to leverage it well enough to survive. Once the loyalist zombies (those who have always gotten the paper and continue to, even though they don’t read it) completely fall off it’ll be even harder. The only thing that attracts readers to our little small-town paper is the obits and pictures of local sports.

The market has just changed around them, and no matter how good a job they changing with it, it’s going to look like hell for most of them.

Dave says:

Good Old Bob

Bob could certainly read an actual article in a paper magazine that lays out some good ideas for how papers can still survive, in the Atlantic a few months ago. Curiously, it is largely by Google bigwigs. I’m no internet Pollyanna, but they make a pretty good case.

But because of the zillion sources of “news”, people today are often very poorly informed. There’s a lot of random factoids, but little coherent meaning. They could be well-informed, but most lack critical thinking skills, so they will quote Wikipedia and be done with it, or pseudo news, or blogs, and leave it at that, rather than weighing what they read and trying to get at the truth.

An offshoot of this dumbness is what occurs when everything they read is page 1 of whatever they brought up on their iPhone, and nothing further.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Good Old Bob

“but most lack critical thinking skills, so they will quote Wikipedia and be done with it, or pseudo news, or blogs, and leave it at that, rather than weighing what they read and trying to get at the truth. “

This is, of course, absolutely no different than in the pre-internet days – especially in the Murdoch era. If the only news source a person has is a tabloid that filters out anything not supporting a certain political POV and favours celebrity gossip over real issues, they are just as poorly informed as someone using Wikipedia as their sole source.

The big difference is that at least there’s something the average person can do to correct or otherwise address the misinformation online. I can edit faulty information there, and write comments on blogs or write my own articles to correct false or incomplete information. I can’t do that with a newspaper.

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