On Gawker on Sorkin: Looping in the Brave New Media

A few weeks ago, Gawker ran a scathing critique of Aaron Sorkin's upcoming HBO series The Newsroom, which uses Sorkin's well-loved penchant for heroic simultaneous prognosticators/perambulators to wax nostalgic about a time when journalism was pure:

WILL: And what does winning look like to you? 

MACKENZIE: Reclaiming the Fourth Estate. Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect and a return to what's important. …. The death of gossip and voyeurism. Speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot, a place where we all come together. 

Gawker's Drew Magary isn't buying it:

No one in their right mind wants to go back to a world where you had to watch a … nightly newscast to get all your information about the world. The media environment we live in now is light years better than what we used to have. We have an army of people online ready to call [out] media, and we have a second army of people online ready to call [out those people]. It's a glorious, repulsive mess.

Two archetypal views on the state of the news media are at play here: On the one hand we have the Nostalgic, who longs for the time when saintly (white) network anchors roamed the evening airwaves, when the news was made by and for men of repute, when there was one virtuous national dialogue.

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Is it enough to have a media landscape full of nothing but people pointing fingers?

On the other hand, we have the Brave New Media, merchants of infotainment, alchemists of the high(ish) and the low, primed to pounce on any perceived hypocrisy or lie.

The former view is too prevalent and all too rosy. We may have "all come together," but it was in the home, and on the terms, of corporate broadcasters. "Civility" and "respect" are fine and good, but it isn't good manners that hold power to account.

It's inspiring to me that a publication currently hot on the beat of Snooki-Babygate can also see through some of the fallacies of the conventional history of mainstream media. And this isn't the first time Gawker has gotten serious by any stretch of the imagination.

But is it enough to have a media landscape full of nothing but people pointing fingers? Certainly there is a place for that, but a media landscape that consists exclusively of criticizing other people's work is missing something crucial: original work.

The Columbia Journalism Review, in its exhaustive and fascinating report on the state of American journalism, summed it up:

Something is gained when reporting, analysis and investigation are pursued collaboratively by stable organizations that can facilitate regular reporting by experienced journalists, support them with money, logistics and legal services, and present their work to a large public.

But resources dedicated to such reporting are in sharp decline.

This is what bears preserving about the Nightly News/Big Newspaper era. Only an experienced, financially and logistically supported journalist is capable of being in the right place with the right questions to report facts from the ground and hold power to account.

The kind of thinking Gawker displayed is ubiquitous: that the sheer volume of outlets and information available online make the news media today good enough for our democracy.

It's not good enough. Those who reject nostalgia for yesterday's news media are halfway there, but without more sources of original, researched, investigative journalism, the Internet is just an echo chamber, echoing nothing.

Illustration by Free Press; original photo by Michael Baltic (via Flickr)

 

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people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good