WSJ Writer: All The Failings Of Print Journalism Are The Fault Of The Internet

from the pshh-obviously dept

We've seen this before. Whenever something happens that people don't like and they need a quick repository upon which to place heaping amounts of undue blame, they always seem to choose the internet. Who do we blame for murders? Ghost stories on the internet, obviously! Why is that batshit celebrity's reputation in the pooper? C'mon, all the thetans point to it being the internet's fault, of course! Your South American government is experiencing a bit of the old rebellion-time amongst the citizenry? Yo soy internet (ed: Tim, you never took Spanish in high school, did you?).

But, typically, when somebody swoops in to blame the failings of one thing on a more internet-y thing, there's at least some tangential relationship. Those ghost stories were on an internet site after all, and that celebrity's antics were as well. And it's not like rebellions don't actually use internet services to coordinate protests. But what Edward Kosner of The Wall Street Journal managed to cobble together is truly amazing: high-profile failings in print media recently, notably the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape story debacle, Newsweek getting the inventor of bitcoin wrong, and the traditional print media's complete failure to report on the known rape accusations against Bill Cosby, are the internet's fault too, even though the screw-ups themselves were within the print media. Confused as to how this could be? Well, Kosner's thesis essentially amounts to: this internet shit is, like, totally fast, and print media is trying to print really fast too, which is why they're screwing up.

To prove how completely unhinged this piece is, take two sections and put them side by side. Take, on one hand, the accusation that print journalists failed to report on Bill Cosby:

And the vastly experienced author of a new 500-page biography of Bill Cosby managed to blow the lead: to leave out detailed accusations by more than a dozen women that the beloved comedian had drugged and raped or otherwise sexually molested them.
And put it alongside his assessment of the real problem:
Quite simply, print editors and their writers, and especially the publications’ proprietors, are being unhinged by the challenge of making a splash in a new world increasingly dominated by the values of digital journalism. Traditional long-form journalism—painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked—finds itself fighting a losing battle for readers and advertisers. Quick hits, snarky posts and click-bait in the new, ever-expanding cosmos of websites promoted by even quicker teasers on Twitter and Facebook have broadened the audience but shrunk its attention span, sometimes to 140 characters (shorter than this sentence).
Got that? Traditional print journalists failed to report on the splashy story of Bill Cosby's accusers because they're trying to compete with the splashy internet journalists and...wait...what? I'm confused as to why Kosner would offer such a complete counter-example to his entire thesis. It must be a print journalist's thing. I'm just here to be splashy and sarcastic, so let me just say that Kosner is a buffoon and then put this cute picture of a cat in for good internet-y measure.

God bless this guy's stupid little furry face.
But, wait, there's more. The only reason the Rolling Stone post was found out to be a big bucket of internet-speed wrongness was, wait for it, because of the internet as well.
Here was a story made to go viral—doing journalistic due diligence on it might blunt its sharp edges and sap its appeal. As it happened, the Rolling Stone piece was undone by old-school reporting by the Washington Post, which has the resources to do its job only because it is being subsidized by the Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who bought the paper from the Graham family last year for $250 million.
Phew, thank god for that internet guy and his filthy, splashy, click-bait-y money, otherwise we wouldn't have had any journalism this Christmas, Virginia. The internet, it would appear, much like beer, is both the cause and solution to all of journalism's problems. It created the crappy Rolling Stone piece, then it fixed it too. It's almost as though the internet isn't really the controlling factor here, only the occasional trappings of lazy journalism. Sometimes that happens on the internet and sometimes it happens in print. All this is really driven home by Kosner's concluding paragraph, which appears to have been written as though all the preceding words had never been uttered.
The new, disruptive pressure of digital publishing on what has come to be thought of as traditional journalism isn’t going to ease anytime soon. Those who are owners or workers in legacy publishing have to understand that they can survive the onslaught—and perhaps eventually thrive—only by maintaining the rigorous standards that once made these publications not only respected but trusted by their readers and advertisers. Desperate times call for disciplined journalism.
In other words, the failings described above are all to do with the journalists in those instances failing their own standards, not because of the scary, super-speedy internet. Come on, WSJ, you guys have editors over there, yes?


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  • icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 6:22am

    "the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape story debacle, Newsweek getting the inventor of bitcoin wrong, and the traditional print media's complete failure to report on the known rape accusations against Bill Cosby, are the internet's fault too"

    My forehead is gonna hurt so much after reading this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 6:36am

      Re:

      Just look at internet-y things like cute cat pictures and you'll be fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Machin Shin (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 6:39am

      Re:

      Just stare at the kitten. That amount of cuteness can do wonders for helping you forget about the stupidity the rest of the story is highlighting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 8:01am

        Re: Re:

        Just stare at the kitten. That amount of cuteness can do wonders for helping you forget ...

        Until you realize it's looking up at a kitten killer who's about to smash it in the head. "Please don't kill me Mr. Kitten Killer!"

        Perception is everything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 6:33am

    Was hearing the rumors about Cosby 15 yrs ago......
    When a phone was just a phone
    Dial up AOL
    That's a long record of failing for them to blame elsewhere

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 6:40am

    Controlling the Message

    These old school journalists are still pissed that they can no longer feed the public what they think we should hear. They're surprised that people are abandoning traditional media for outlets that actually are willing to tell us the truth. Sure there's a lot of misinformation out there, but I'd rather make the decision instead of some old guy who's buddies with the people he's writing about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 7:16am

    Traditional long-form journalism—painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked—....

    citation needed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 7:42am

    This is all because we've raised people to not take personal responsibility for their actions. Everyone is a special snowflake and everyone else is to blame for mistakes.

    Wait, am I just passing the blame? Crap...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 7:46am

    I was taught

    In terms of business decisions, I was taught to think like an entrepreneur: if you can no longer compete in a market (because the market changed or competition that kicks your ass too hard), then you need to refocus. That usually means finding a new market, or a special niche of your market, where you can leverage your strengths better.

    By it's very nature, print journalism cannot compete in terms of producing news instantly. But print journalism can do other things better than anyone else when it really wants to, namely actual long-form journalism.

    Perhaps they'd be better off to avoid losing their collective minds trying to compete against people playing to their weakness and instead compete by playing to their strength.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 2:03pm

      Re: I was taught

      I don't agree with your statement that Print journalism can do long-form better than non-print.

      Long-Form journalism is completely independent of the medium used and I can easily argue that the Internet is a better medium for long-form journalism. Ink and paper on the internet is infinitely cheaper than print.

      The problem with is that the people running print have gotten accustomed to the way the business is run with huge overhead and silo roles for their journalists. Since incoming ad dollars are shrinking, it seems like getting smaller and more specialized is the way to go.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 2:47pm

        Re: Re: I was taught

        "Long-Form journalism is completely independent of the medium used"

        The difference is that the existing print companies already have the mechanisms needed to effectively do actual long-form journalism. The vat majority of the online alternatives do not.

        But I'm talking about potentialities, not actualities. The print media effectively gave up doing actual journalism a long time ago (before the internet could even begin to pose threat). This is, in my opinion, the chief reason that they're in trouble now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 7:51am

    Print journalism does not understand the internet

    Why does the WSJ - or other legacy newspapers - have RSS feeds but put the links behind a paywall? Or non-working RSS feeds? Why don't other newspapers have RSS feeds at all? Don't they want their audience to read their stories?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 8:26am

    Mr. Kosner was must have cut those "History of Journalism 101" lectures

    Hard to imagine someone can make that print/web argument if they've EVER been exposed to Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the emperors of "yellow journalism". Complaints of Internet superficiality, flash-and-trash, shallow reporting, clickbait... they're all mirrored precisely in those early, populist, "penny press" newspapers. This was not an Internet invention.

    The sweetest irony? That those who tout their formal, traditional journalism educational credentials could forget their own profession's earliest history... and its darkest moments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wade, 12 Dec 2014 @ 8:29am

    The WSJ editorial seems a bit ill thought out, but I guess they rushed to get eyeballs on the screen and get it out before their journalistic competitors point out the problems of rushing ... sigh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    steve, 12 Dec 2014 @ 8:42am

    paywalled

    There you go again with the links to paywalled articles. Do you pay for WSJ, and expect everyone else to do so too? Could you at least warn readers they won't be able to follow your link without paying?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:07am

      Re: paywalled

      Yeah, my bad on not notifying that the link was behind a paywall. On the other hand, WSJ's paywall is so laughably easy to get around....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 8:53am

    New and disruptive technology?

    Let's assume the Internet, in it's most popular form, has been around since 1999. That means the "new and disruptive technology" to quickly report news has been around for 15 years. So why is this an issue now? Is the WSJ so desperate for articles that they have to re-hash this argument?

    And TV news has also been quicker to report news stories than printed media. Is this also "new and disruptive technology"? I wasn't around in the 1950's, so maybe that's what TV was considered back then.

    Here's an idea for them: instead of blaming all the bad things (radio, TV, the Internet, etc), concentrate on adding value to the news so people will want to buy the newspaper. Sure, newspapers and magazines may not be the first to report on something, but they can take their time and do better in-depth analysis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DocGerbil100 (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:14am

    Uhh...?

    What in the actual fuck is this guy smoking?

    "Traditional long-form journalism—painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked [...]"

    Do we live in the same universe? Does Kosner spend half the year in some strange, surreal parallel reality where Newscorp and the Daily Mail don't exist?

    I gave up on print journalism over a decade before I learned to use the internet, because it's a load of crap. They've been referred to as modern-day courtiers to government and it's true. Regurgitating and chewing on state-authorised press-releases is basically all they're good for.

    I got better value-for-money and value-for-time reading the news on BBC teletext (simple news summaries via the TV, about the length of three tweets).

    Now we have the internet, print journalism is yesterday's joke.

    Edward Kosner: a name to remember, and an opinion to be forgotten, as quickly as is humanly possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:23am

    It's all their fault our monopolies failed, and TV is next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:34am

    editorial fluff

    I stopped reading print newspaper and watching mainstream media when all they presented was editorialized fluff... just opinion pieces without any real fact checking... There is a lot of that on the internet too which I tend to ignore. I really appreciate well researched journalistic pieces which are becoming rarer and rarer. Just look at the crap on TV which also avoids the important stories for the latest celebrity crap or cat in the tree story... At least on the internet I can find some real journalism giving first hand reporting rather than someone's editorials with made up crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:37am

    fact-checking at WSJ? Scrupulous fact-checking even?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 9:54am

    At least the bloggers don't have to check with the government and investors before publishing every story. Sorry that your own corruption is slowing you up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 11:24am

    It's a good thing the reporter here bitching hasn't really researched his topic and just took off on a rant. The reason newspapers are failing are on account of several reasons. Some of them go back to the basics, which reporters, editors, and the papers themselves ignored.

    Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations. ~ George Orwell

    “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell,” ~ Wilbur F Storey


    In those two quotations are the root of newspaper's failings. No one wants to print the story that pisses off their advertisers. Doesn't matter it's newsworthy and the public should know. It matters more if we piss them off they won't give us money anymore.

    The second is the total lack of holding public officials accountable. Investigative reporting is dead in all but name. The government doesn't want this story printed and the paper agrees not to. Snowden anyone? This is part of why this country is as corrupt as it is. Public officials have little fear of being exposed for their wrong doing.

    Instead we get dumb criminal news, syndicated news, but little or next to nothing with actual meat in it. I am still trying to figure out why I should pay for day old news when I can get up to the minute news on the internet. There is no longer a competition factor with newspapers and no longer a valid reason to go see them since they can't get their facts straight and can't tell it the way it is.

    I'm sure the buggy whip makers had a lot of issues with society at the time when they were adopting the automobile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Dec 2014 @ 11:59am

    The internet is for p...
    The internet is to blame, the internet is to blame
    Man that really is a shame but it is to blame, blame, blame

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 12 Dec 2014 @ 3:21pm

    sounds like he has gone senile

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Brian Daniel Young, 31 Dec 2014 @ 9:48pm

    More Top Longform Resources

    There has been a proliferation of longform websites dedicated to longer article content. I actually started http://longformstories.com a little while ago to aggregate all of this content. This website has always has been a great resource for us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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