I’ve made no secret of my opinion: Joseph Epstein is the best essayist in America. When he writes, people oughtta read, for the simple elegance of his prose, if nothing else.
He has now written a great piece about the decline of the newspapers. Link. He covers pretty much everything: declining numbers, the rise of the blogosphere, troubles within the profession of journalism, the “dumbing down” efforts to salvage readers. It’s worth a read, at least if you have twenty minutes (it’s lengthy). Because a lot of my readers don’t have twenty minutes, I have cut-and-pasted my two favorite passages below:
The self-proclaimed goal of newsmen used to be to report, in a clear and factual way, on the important events of the day, on subjects of greater or lesser parochialism. It is no longer so. Here is Dan Rather, quoting with approval someone he does not name who defines news as “what somebody doesn’t want you to know. All the rest is advertising.”
“What somebody doesn’t want you to know”—it would be hard to come up with a more concise definition of the target of the “investigative journalism” that has been the pride of the nation’s newspapers for the past three decades. Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Seymour Hersh, and many others have built their reputations on telling us things that Presidents and Senators and generals and CEO’s have not wanted us to know.
Besides making for a strictly adversarial relationship between government and the press, there is no denying that investigative journalism, whatever (very mixed) accomplishments it can claim to its credit, has put in place among us a tone and temper of agitation and paranoia. Every day, we are asked to regard the people we elect to office as, essentially, our enemies—thieves, thugs, and megalomaniacs whose vicious secret deeds it is the chief function of the press to uncover and whose persons to bring down in a glare of publicity.
All this might have been to the good if what the journalists discovered were invariably true—and if the nature and the implications of that truth were left for others to puzzle out. Frequently, neither has been the case.
And from the conclusion:
My own preference would be for a few serious newspapers to take the high road: to smarten up instead of dumbing down, to honor the principles of integrity and impartiality in their coverage, and to become institutions that even those who disagreed with them would have to respect for the reasoned cogency of their editorial positions. I imagine such papers directed by editors who could choose for me—as neither the Internet nor I on my own can do—the serious issues, questions, and problems of the day and, with the aid of intelligence born of concern, give each the emphasis it deserves.
Oh, if a few newspapers took his advice! I’d subscribe. Probably.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList