Henley and Yglesias on Reporter Impartiality

A couple of follow-ups on my post about the decline of reporter impartiality. First, Jim Henley points out that the ethos of the opinionated blogger isn’t really new:

I submit that this is just magazine-journalism ethos with the addition of cat pictures. If you think about what good long and short-form journalism looks like at a decent magazine, it looks like the bullet-points above. I’m not just talking about ideological organs. The writer who sells to Harper’s or The National Geographic or even Runner’s World is going to tend to show a personality and take a definite perspective, while at the same time doing fresh reporting from primary sources, whether human, documentary or physical. The writer will make sure to include a substantial account of challenges to her perspective, if only to knock it down later.

If you were a magazine editor and knew Paul Theroux hated the English because he wrote an entire book about how much the English suck, you might still send him to write a big piece on England for your monthly because you expected it to be interesting, and because the ethos of magazine journalism would make it “fair.” If you knew that William Greider hated economic conservatives, or Tom Wolfe hated social liberals, you would still buy factual pieces touching economics from the one and cultural folkways from the other: their very names constitute warning labels; their strong viewpoints sharpen their writing; and because they’re professionals, they’ll put in the work.

Second, Matt Yglesias speculates on the long-term trajectory of the Post:

The odds are quite good that The Washington Post won’t exist in anything remotely resembling its current form in 20 or 30 years. It’s possible that some local news outlet buy the trademark, but realistically a digital world only needs so many general purpose English language news sources and there are many better-positioned brands and firms out there. The BBC, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Reuters as is News Corporation’s family of brands. Beyond that, Time Warner’s family brands has considerable strength, so does the rapidly growing NPR…

Beyond those seven I named of course you might see other survivors. But it’s going to be tough out there. Really tough. And in some ways it’s especially tough for an organization like The Washington Post. As you can read here, a large number of Post staffers loathe and despise both Weigel and Ezra Klein, the paper’s two signature efforts to obtain relevance in a digital age. In part that’s small-minded of them, but in large part it’s inevitable. Naturally the ethos cultivated at mid-sized urban daily is different from the ethos of the new media. That makes it hard to dip your toes into the new waters. But that in turn makes it extremely difficult to compete with smaller, nimbler organizations that can more easily succeed at opportunistically snagging talented people and not worrying so much about how it fits into the larger scheme of things.

This seems spot-on. I made a similar point last year.

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