NEWS

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November 21, 2008

Journalist Jim Warren decries shift toward Internet news, citing blogs’ lack of ethical standards

Longtime Chicago Tribune editor and Huffington Post contributor Jim Warren spoke critically about the changing nature of journalism as it continues to shift away from traditional print media to the web in a talk at the Harris School on Tuesday.

“I think the Internet has absolutely changed everything,” he said. “The journalism of blogging seems to be winning out.”

Warren began by describing the wide-scale effects of the Internet on traditional media. According to Warren, sites like Craigslist, which offers advertising “for free or for pennies,” have caused a steep drop in advertising revenue for newspapers and magazines alike.

“Auto and real estate, bread and butter ads, have also suffered,” he said. “And in a classic example of the free market not working, the price of newsprint is skyrocketing despite declining demand. The U.S. population doubled in the past 60 years, but newspaper revenue is less than it was in 1966…. It’s a failing business model.”

Warren lamented the changes, citing what he described as the vigilante and partisan attitude of many blogs. Naming several high profile stories, including the Tribune’s reporting on the death penalty in Illinois, which “took many years” of “gumshoe investigative reporting,” Warren said that blogs do not actually contribute much original reporting.

“They rely on newspapers,” he said.

The implications of these changes in journalism have far-reaching effects beyond just ad revenue, namely a “startling decline of the stature of media.”

“It’s a short time [ago] that being a journalist was honorable,” Warren said. Prior to the 1930s, the dominant paradigm was not objectivity; rather, “partisan papers were the norm—every political group, every ethnic group, had its paper. Editors and publishers had overt objectives…. There is absolutely nothing new about Fox News or MSNBC,” he said.

“Those running the media care less and less about ethics,” Warren said. “It’s an extravagance, a luxury, in a time of hyper-competition…. Serious news doesn’t seem to sell anymore.”

But even Warren himself asked rhetorically, “Why should you care?” Indeed, some celebrate the death of traditional print media, most notably media and gossip blog Gawker, which has labeled the most recent recession as the “Great Magazine Die-Off,” with niche magazines and Condé Nast publications alike closing up shop.

“You should care because of the unique role of journalism in a democracy. At its best, journalism brings coherence to our being citizens in a diverse and fragmented country,” Warren said. “Imagine walking into the library and seeing all the pages of every book all over the floor. A newspaper puts the pages in some order…. Journalism underscores complexity.”

But is it possible blogs could do some good? In response to an audience member who mentioned newsbreaks that came from bloggers, Warren remained skeptical.

“I understand there’s a laudable democratic impulse [in blogging],” he said. “But often it just equals the unedited legitimization of stupidity and outright bigotry.”