Dinosaur Bones

If the Internet is understood as the democratization of information, then the print and TV news that preceded it was a fiefdom. In this fiefdom, feudal news producers condescended to let the people know about all the different goings-on in the world, but at least they seemed like benevolent overlords, acting in the broad public interest by doing investigative journalism at home and maintaining independent desks abroad.  But those two hallmarks of news, investigative journalism and overseas bureaus, have changed for the worse in the recent past. What can be done to save them?

In a series of video interviews with the likes of Dan Rather, Geraldo Rivera and Amy Goodman, the disappearance of overseas news bureaus held by even the most well known news companies was a result of economics. The popularization of the Internet distributed advertising revenue across a much wider field and since information suddenly became free to reproduce on the Web, print sales plummeted. Add in a global economic depression and it becomes much more cost effective to pay someone who is already overseas to do some leg work, losing the incalculable value of staffing a bureau to get a feel for what’s behind the facts of a story.

The Editor’s Web Blog notes that more and more recipients of journalism prizes, those given for thorough investigations, come from non-profits and eye-witnesses rather than from the rolls of traditional news outlets. That non-profits exist to provide quality investigative reporting is undoubtedly a good thing, and so too is the ability of people on the ground to get out their message to the world a la Iran, so is it nostalgic to want to bring back the breadth and depth of old news producers? Or are organizations like The New York Times and ABC News dinosaur bones?

Dan Kennedy, who frequently contributes to The Guardian and keeps a good media blog called Media Nation, thinks traditional print sources can renew themselves by keeping certain content free on their websites, but should return to enticing people to buy their material by running (and charging for) interesting features. Mr. Kennedy expresses disappointment in Esquire magazine for giving away their feature on Roger Ebert, which, he says, should have been used to sell their print edition.

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