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.