Journos: Fiddling, Rome burningPosted: Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Lot of backlash against David Simon’s vision of the Baltimore Sun in the final season of The Wire. A lot of it is because of Simon’s now very public hatred of two of his former editors. Both of these editors are considered sacred cows among many of today’s working journalists. But these jorunos’ defense of these two editors, and their backlash against Simon and The Wire, is playing exactly into The Wire’s viewpoint, which is: what are We paying attention to?
I’m sure that during the first seasons of The Wire, every police in Baltimore spent time trying to figure out which real-life cop McNulty was based upon, who was the real-life police commissioner, the deputy commissioner, etc. The difference is that police generally don’t have the podium of either column inches or online news sites and name-brand blogs at their disposal to vent or offer personality corrections. I’m wondering if they have the same competitive streak that drives most journos to go out and prove they are better, smarter and more prolific than every other journo — in reality, that, and not the pursuit of truth, is what drives most journalists.
As Slate’s critics finally realized (post No. 17 in the Slate discussion), today’s journalists are fiddling while Rome burns. What I’ve read in the last few weeks (the Atlantic, Slate, etc.) proves to me the exact Problem with Reporters and Editors today — their obsession with gossip rather than news. The discussion has been overwhelmed by the talk of these two real-life editors “would never do/say that” instead of “that’s exactly what Corporate America is doing to the World of Journalism.” Just see the LA Times, which just fired a head-cutter who evidently wasn’t cutting heads fast enough.
In their rush to defend two sacred cows, journalists are missing the actual story of Corporate America gutting newspapers, while MBAs are running the newsrooms based on the demands of Wall Street and not the demands of good journalism (as Pete Hamill, among others, pointed out 10 years ago). I saw this problem even at the small-time daily journalism level. Like me, most of the people that care about newspapers — outside of the elite big-time journo circles that have been discussing these guys ad infinitum — DON’T CARE who the fictional ‘Wire’ editors are based upon. We care that corporate greed and an attitude of “more with less” is decimating American journalism. All we’re left with is gossip. That’s the story most of the new criticism (with the exception of the No. 17 post at Slate) is missing.
Incidentally, a more balanced treatment of Simon’s admitted grudge, but one that also takes into account the Real Issues I’m talking about, is in the Columbia Journalism Review’s story and in NPR’s report.
I had my own criticism of the first episode (see previous post). I, too, griped about the portrayal of the news business in the initial 60 minutes as inaccurate and simplistic, and was concerned about the dramatic presentation and pacing.
And I admit, Slate’s Press Box guru makes some good points regarding the newspaper industry itself, and how Simon does or doesn’t accurately portray it for 2008 (as opposed to the 1990s, as Shafer points out). But the Press Box column (and, yes, my earlier post) misses Simon’s larger, and more important, point about what are We watching?