Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Joker Smiles

The daily newspaper only looks like it's dying. In fact, it's already dead. Those 10 percent cuts in staff, those buyout offers for jobs that won't be re-filled: they're not the harbingers of the demise of print journalism. That's the death of it, right there.

Newspaper people know this. David Carr of the New York Times:

On Sunday, a fat-looking [Newark] Star-Ledger showed up, seemingly stuffed with inserts and ads, local sports and cultural coverage, prompting my wife to suggest, “It’s like a ham sandwich, it’s so thick, with lettuce, pickles and onions.”

It may still look like a sandwich, but some of the meat is about to go missing. Tom Moran, the political columnist of The Star-Ledger who retired earlier this year, shudders when he thinks about New Jersey, with its history of public corruption, without a fully-armed Star-Ledger looking over its shoulder.

“At least we could embarrass them and occasionally, the people would vote the bad guys out,” he said. “It’s a sad story not just for my friends who work at the paper. But for the state of New Jersey, if this continues, the bad guys will have a lot less to worry about.”

At the newspaper I know best, there no longer is an investigative reporter. There rarely if ever is more than one reporter working on a story, however big it sprawls. Whoever does the police beat is whoever isn't doing anything else that night.

At that rate, all you can do is keep up. Who in your town is going to smoke out the corruption, the scams, the bad business practices? Bloggers? Who gives any credence to what a blogger says? What blogger is going to spend a week going through a three-foot high stack of FOIA documents to find the 10 pages that matter? What blogger is going to call a first-amendment lawyer after sundown to shake loose an affidavit from a district magistrate who won't release it? How many will patiently schmooze the lunchcounter waitresses and bartenders who know where the bodies are buried in this town and cultivate them for the day you need to know what they know? And the ones with time, money, and will to do that work won't care about your state or county. They'll be busy making themselves players on the national scene.