February 10, 2019

WHAT WE HAVE ARE MORE COFFEE HOUSES THAN PRESS:

JOURNALISM ISN'T DYING. IT'S RETURNING TO ITS ROOTS (Antonio Garcia Martinez, 2/09/19, Wired)

[I]f you were to magically teleport the architects of our democracy--men like Ben Franklin or Samuel Adams (newspapermen, both of them)--to today, they'd find our journalistic ecosystem, with its fact-checked both-sides-ism and claims to "objectivity," completely unrecognizable. Franklin wrote under at least a dozen pseudonyms, including such gems as Silence Dogood and Alice Addertongue, and pioneered the placement of advertising next to content. Adams (aka Vindex the Avenger, Philo Patriae, et al.) was editor of the rabidly anti-British Boston Gazette and also helped organize the Boston Tea Party, when activists dumped tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay tax on it. Adams duly covered the big event the next day with absolute aplomb. They'd have no notion of journalistic "objectivity," and would find the entire undertaking futile (and likely unprofitable, but more on that soon).

If, however, you explained Twitter, the blogosphere, and newsy partisan outlets like Daily Kos or National Review to the Founding Fathers, they'd recognize them instantly. A resurrected Franklin wouldn't have a news job inside The Washington Post; he'd have an anonymous Twitter account with a huge following that he'd use to routinely troll political opponents, or a partisan vehicle built around himself like Ben Shapiro's Daily Wire, or an occasional columnist gig at a less partisan outlet like Politico, or a popular podcast where he'd shoot the political breeze with other Sons of Liberty, à la Chapo Trap House or Pod Save America. "Journalism dying, you say?" Ben Franklin v 2.0 might say. "It's absolutely blooming, as it was in my day."

What is dying, perhaps, is that flavor of "objective" journalism that purports to record an unbiased account of world events. We take journalistic objectivity to be as natural and immutable as the stars, but it's a relatively short-lived artifact of 20th-century America. Even now it's foreign to Europeans--cities such as London cultivate a rowdy passel of partisan scribblers who don't even pretend there's an impregnable wall between reportage and opinion. The US was much the same until the late 19th and early 20th century. Until 1900 or so, most newspapers were overtly political, and a name like The Press Democrat meant Democrat with a big D. Advertising was a minor concern, as party leaders encouraged members to subscribe to their local party organ, obviating the need for anything more than classifieds.

Posted by at February 10, 2019 8:22 AM

  

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