Steven Waldman: Why the Huffington Post Can’t Replace The New York Times
The idea that the Huffington Post, or the explosion of interesting internet news or blogging sites, can replace journalistic institutions like the New York times or other newspapers or dinosaurs of the mainstream media truly misunderstands the web, newspapers, journalism and the serious threat posed to democracy if the news gathering institutions fail.
I think Waldman has this right. Michael Hirschorn’s Atlantic piece pondering the death of the Times is plenty interesting, and good food for thought. But — even aside from my own self-interest as a freelance contributor to the Times — I think Hirschorn’s overly optimistic when he says the death of the print Times (and with it, essentially, the death of all print daily newspapers) would not necessarily be a disaster. Hirschorn says best estimates are that an online-only version could support about 20% of the reporting and editing infrastructure presently at the Times. So we’d lose at least 80% of the sort of infrastructure that supports in-depth reporting, fact-checking, editing, and brainstorming, and with it a corresponding infrastructure of contacts and information flow that is not paid directly by the Times, but in existence only because of the Times’ infrastructure.
Yes, some of that can be replaced by networks tied to online reporting. But as valuable as the best online reporting is — HuffPo, Talking Points, etc. — even those places would readily admit they don’t have the means to break big, reporting-intensive stories — or pack the punch needed to hold government and business accountable. The MSM has sometimes failed to respondibly serve this function as a check on power. Yet its capacity to do so is itself a public good.
Media 2.0 is a splendid thing. But I can’t see how it can replace the combination of resources and concentrated clout brought to bear by our biggest newspapers (and local papers, at a local leval).