Thursday, October 11, 2007

You're under no obligation to read this

To begin this morning's news meeting, I'd like to call attention to Roy Peter Clark's ridiculous essay at Poynter Online, "Your Duty to Read the Paper."

As Michelle would say, puh-leez.

Clark, who always struck me as a pompous windbag, begins by confessing that he hasn't read the newspaper much lately (on paper) and vowing to renew his morning paper habit. Okeydoke, good for him. But then he elevates his own decision to a moral imperative:

I'm making a promise to myself, and now to you, to reverse this trend. The future of journalism, not just newspapers, depends upon such loyalty. And now I pose this challenge to you: It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper -- emphasis on paper, not pixels.
Clark's argument is that while online journalism shows some promise financially, for now all the money to be made in this business -- and therefore to pay reporters, editors and, presumably, washed-up "senior scholars" at a "teaching foundation for journalists" -- is in the print edition of the daily newspaper. Someone's got to buy the damn things! And if we're not going to do it, he says, addressing himself to working news types, how can we expect the public to?

Well, give me a break. Did early commuters have a "duty" to buy buggy whips? Were music producers compelled by duty to keep purchasing 8-tracks? If so, a lot of good it did 'em.

Says the indispensable (and digital only) Wikipedia: "When someone recognizes a duty, they commit themselves to the cause involved without considering the self-interested courses of actions that may have been relevant previously."


I love the news business as much as anybody, and until the last few months I've read an actual newspaper, the paper kind, almost every day of my life. Most days more than one of them. I literally learned to read with the Oakland Tribune. But turn it into a duty, a religious requirement, and you're going to lose me faster than you can say "Hail Mary."

Next, somebody will tell me I have to play poker and ruin that too.

If "we" (and I use the term loosely now, being semi-retired) have a duty, it's to find and report the news, to tell people something they don't know and probably can't find out otherwise, and to do it with writing that's as sharp, concise and entertaining as we can make it.

Markets clear, is what I say. If people, including reporters and editors, would rather get their information from their computers, their cell phones or their Tivo'd Jon Stewart shows, that's the breaks. Figure out a better way to deliver the news or shut up and get out of the way. Go join the senior VHS scholars in dead-delivery-system nirvana.

In other news today ... I have no idea. I don't get a newspaper.


Anonymous said...

Now that's great journalism.

Anonymous said...

Way to tell 'em baby. But I think that should be "them's the breaks."

Kate Cohen said...

buggywhips -- heh!

okay -- it's funny because I decided last night to do a Morning News Meeting for the only ink-on-wooder I still read regularly, The Grunion Gazette -- and today's M&M morning meeting dove-tails right in -- anyway, in lieu of saying it all again ... The Nite Note's Morning Meeting, Grunion edition.