Clippings: Believe it or not, reporting matters
There’s this scene in “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” a 2011 documentary film about the paper of record, that I can’t stop thinking about.
It features David Carr, The Times’s media columnist who became the paper’s de facto spokesman before his death in 2015. In the scene, Carr debates the future of news with Michael Wolff, the founder of the news aggregation blog Newser.
Wolff succumbs to hyperbole in the course of their exchange, going so far as to declare that traditional news outlets who engage in original reporting are dead. Rebuking his opponent’s ridiculous claim is too easy for Carr. With a grin on his face, he holds up a printout of Newser’s front page and tells the audience that the blog is, in fact, a good looking website.
“But I wonder if Michael has really thought through ‘get rid of mainstream media content,’” Carr says. Again, he holds up a printout of the blog’s homepage, this time with every story containing information originally reported by “mainstream” outlets cut out with a pair of scissors. “Go ahead,” he says, peering through a piece of paper that looks like Swiss cheese.
I often think of this scene because I keep encountering folks who either don’t know or don’t appreciate the value of original reporting.
For example, last month a friend asked me why people continue to subscribe to The Times when blogs like Vox and Slate post concise content online for free.
I was shocked.
Did he not understand that those websites, while important and worth reading, relied heavily on the reportage of papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times et al? Could he not see that without reporters churning out copy and immersing themselves in their respective beats, most digital and television outlets would not exist?
The short answer: no, he did not. And I don’t blame him. If I wasn’t pursuing a career in journalism, I probably wouldn’t know or care either.
If the current political climate has taught me anything, it’s that we have an alarmingly high rate of media illiteracy in this country. Many people do not understand where news comes from, and many more don’t even care. That a president was elected using terms like “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and “the failing New York Times” is evidence enough, and should scare folks regardless of their political ideology.
And it’s not just political news that’s the problem. The other day, a Facebook friend of mine shared a fake article that said Charles Manson had been granted parole. I don’t fault him for the mistake, the phony blog was well-designed and looked like a legitimate news organization. Perhaps we should update an old adage: Don’t judge a website by its homepage.
This is a problem, and as we continue to rely on the internet for, well, everything, we must take media literacy seriously to ensure that subsequent generations are not illiterate. How hard would it be in elementary and middle schools classrooms, where students are freethinking and willing to learn, to read a newspaper or surf the web’s many news sources once or twice a week? The medium may be changing, but news isn’t going anywhere.
Every night, I’m reminded of this as I scroll through Twitter where The Times and The Post battle to break news about the president and his men and women. As a young journalist, with a compulsion to join the print media, I can’t help but wonder if this is what it was like growing up in the heyday of newspapers. It reaffirms my belief that tough and true reporting will always prevail.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I came across a tweet by Pete Hegseth, a Trump supporter and guest host on “Fox & Friends,” a morning program on Fox News. His tweet read, “Spilled my coffee this morning on (Fox & Friends). Finally found good use for failing (New York Times). #NotFakeNews,” and included a picture of a coffee-stained Times acting as a coaster.
When I saw his tweet, I laughed because it proved David Carr’s words true. Folks can trash The Times all they want, but they’ll still read it. Because without it, blogs and opinion TV shows like “Fox & Friends” will have nothing to report or discuss. It truly is the media kingdom with all the power.
So, will The Times fail while fake news prevails? To paraphrase my hero Carr: hell no.
Editor’s note: Will DiGravio, a summer intern at the Independent, is a rising junior at Middlebury College and managing editor of the Middlebury Campus newspaper.
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