5.31.2005

The Reinvention Will Not Be Televised

This was posted today on my paper's internal Web site:

"Five fundamental principles that might guide a radical reinvention of newspapers in the public interest.
1) The reinvention must be radical.
2) We must build the broad democratic (small D) community with integrity.
3) We must cultivate citizen journalism, but serve as an authenticator.
4) We must reaffirm our watchdog role with a return to great writing and
storytelling.
5) We must choose thoroughness, completeness and sophistication."
--Tim McGuire, former Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor; president, American Society of Newspaper Editors

I've been trying all day to figure out precisely what grade of happy horseshit this is; I'm leaning toward B, but I can still be swayed one way or the other. I've also been wondering if it's some kind of journalism koan, something along the lines of, "If circulation falls in a forest and nobody gives a shit ..."

Seriously, though, for all of you who point eagerly to the demise of the mainstream media, here's yet another exhibit. Journalism, like most things, dies quickly when exposed to overthought; and when the thinking is as flabby and incoherent as this ... well, prepare the eulogy.

I don't want to deconstruct the thing at length -- there's not much construct there, anyway -- but here's a quickie:

1) The degree of the reinvention's radicalness would be roughly equivalent to the failure of said reinvention. All reinventions work like this.
2) The broad democratic community, with a big D or a small one, can build its owndamnself. That isn't our job.
3) I have no fucking clue what he's talking about.
4) Watchdog journalism and great writing and storytelling rarely intersect. And the use of the word "return" implies that there once was a golden age when all journalists were true and good, and snuffed out injustice wherein they saw it, and wrote like F. Scott Fitzgerald. It never happened. It just seems that way because we had no competition.
5) Do we really have to choose both thoroughness AND completeness?

To paraphrase what someone once said about baseball: If journalism were as complicated as editors made it sound, journalists wouldn't be able to do it. That perhaps explains, in part, why so many aren't.

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