David Simon’s Senate Testimony on the Newspaper Business

Last week, David Simon was invited to testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee and had some good stuff to say, along with some ridiculous. (Ridiculous stuff, thoroughly explored in this Gawker post.)

Simon’s testimony touches on what he sees as the reasons for the downfall of newspapers. He’s mostly right on why newspaper’s aren’t good anymore, but the lack of quality reporting (which Simon says is due to cuts by management) isn’t what keeps me from buying the paper. I doubt that’s why you don’t buy it, either. Simon has a little Buzz Bissinger in him, dismissing the idea and quality of news-gathering bloggers, but not hating on them in the same Buzzy way. I’ve heard Simon use snippets of this before in other places, but still worth skimming all the way.


What I say will likely conflict with what representatives of the newspaper industry will claim for themselves. And I can imagine little agreement with those who speak for new media. From the captains of the newspaper industry, you will hear a certain martyrology – a claim that they were heroically serving democracy to their utmost only to be undone by a cataclysmic shift in technology and the arrival of all things web-based. From those speaking on behalf of new media, weblogs and that which goes twitter, you will be treated to assurances that American journalism has a perfectly fine future online, and that a great democratization in newsgathering is taking place.


But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry’s part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he’s as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger.


Similarly, there can be no serious consideration of public funding for newspapers. High-end journalism can and should bite any hand that tries to feed it, and it should bite a government hand most viciously. Moreover, it is the right of every American to despise his local newspaper – for being too liberal or too conservative, for covering X and not covering Y, for spelling your name wrong when you do something notable and spelling it correctly when you are seen as dishonorable. And it is the birthright of every healthy newspaper to hold itself indifferent to such constant disdain and be nonetheless read by all. Because in the end, despite all flaws, there is no better model for a comprehensive and independent review of society than a modern newspaper. As love-hate relationships go, this is a pretty intricate one. An exchange of public money would pull both sides from their comfort zone and prove unacceptable to all.

Be sure to read the whole thing so you can giggle aloud when Simon suggest (teehee!) collusion! (Thanks, Matt)

David Simon’s Senate Testimony on the Newspaper Business

0 thoughts on “David Simon’s Senate Testimony on the Newspaper Business

  1. Matt says:

    Simon’s right. That Gawker post was bull. Lone bloggers are not doing hardcore investigative journalism with any regularity. The examples the Gawker post cited were a joke. One women sat in on a rowdy City Council meeting and reported on it. Whoopdee doo. That’s not investigative reporting. It’s basic stuff, that, while important, is not the kind of City Hall reporting that Simon was talking about.

    Real investigative journalism is a team effort. It has to be because it’s dangerous. One small misstated fact and you can get your ass sued and taken to the cleaners. You need a team of people fact-checking and editing and making sure everything is perfect, because mistakes happen – often. Especially given the culture’s current ADD imperative of immediacy.

    Lone bloggers can’t possibly rise to the level of a newsroom working collectively. Because everyone makes mistakes, and it will mean their life’s savings. It’s not a matter of print vs. online, it’s a matter of team vs. individual.

    The notion that a bunch of lone bloggers can supplant America’s newspapers as investigative watchdogs is couched in your average American’s narcissistic pathos. We’re all rugged individualists, descended from cowboy stock. Unique snowflakes who can change the world by ourselves — from our couch.

    No, you can’t. And if you try, you’re likely to lose your couch after settling your libel lawsuit.

    An online newsroom, on the other hand, with libel lawyers at their disposal and the financial resources to allow reporters to follow one story over a period of months, without publishing anything else, would work fine. But I happen to know that, with the possible exceptions of Slate and Salon (who are mostly commentary) online advertising isn’t profitable enough to support this kind of venture.


  2. Matt says:

    You are right that Simon neglected to mention the real reason people aren’t buying newspapers — because you can get all the info for free from their websites. Or, you can get your news from people who went to the paper’s website and blogged about the stuff they read for free.


  3. Note to future publishers and content producers, if a technology is coming along that makes it easier for consumers to get content, that technology will likely succeed. There wasn’t a sudden change in the media landscape. Going as far back as 10-15 years it was apparent that internet would one day thrive as the most abundant source of information around. Change is always inevitable.

    I don’t buy newspapers because I find the medium highly inconvenient and inferior to the online edition (can access news online from anywhere with internet access, news can be published and updated instantly online, and shared easily). Throw in that news online is free and it’s a no brainer for me. But I also don’t read the newspapers online sites as much as I used to because I’m not finding the content I want. I want local news that’s deep and digs to uncover the real truth. I don’t care for celebrity gossip or pieces that just cover news on the surface. If I knew that I’d get solid investigative journalism without the fluff I might be willing to pay a subscription fee, but I’d much prefer a donation service where I can donate directly related to the articles I like.

    Matt, there’s a reason lone bloggers don’t produce the same quality of journalism as a team of reporters. Actually, there’s many. For one many bloggers are not trying to be journalists, they’re trying to be bloggers. Sure there are some who are trying to do both, but then they become something beyond a blogger and closer to an online reporter.

    Most bloggers are not trying to replace newspapers, but rather complement them. I sense some disdain in your comments for bloggers, especially those who discuss newspaper articles on their sites, but that seems odd to me. I thought the goal of newspapers was to report the truth and to encourage discussion amongst all members of society. From my perspective, bloggers are some of the best consumers of newspapers and act as a check & balance system for newspapers. Bloggers call out journalists, journalists call out bloggers, and as long as it’s related to our content and not just mud slinging both our readers win. Healthy competition (though indirect) creates better blogs and better newspapers.

    Blogging about the stuff I read is not only my right, it’s also helping newspapers. If I blogged about what I read and gave zero credit to the source, then sure that’s an issue, but as long as credit is given to the source, then the discussion that evolves from that articles is a positive for the newspaper. It’s not different from me calling up a friend and talking about a piece I read or co-workers talking about an article around the water cooler.

    But yeah, the cat is now out of the bag and newspapers are going to find a strong resistance from their readers when they try to roll our subscriptions online. The blame really lies mainly on the newspapers for deciding to give away their content in the hopes that online advertising would pay for it.


  4. Matt says:


    Dude, I’m a blogger. And a journalist. I don’t have disdain for blogging. I have disdain for bloggers who cheer the downfall of newspapers and think that the “Internet” will somehow replace the work of trained professionals.

    Not saying that’s you by the way, I’m just saying.

    The Internet is not a “source” of information. It’s a means of accessing sources of information. A newspaper is both a medium and a source of information. Newspapers going out of business means less information to access. And, as you say yourself, bloggers are not trying to be newspapers. They can’t be newspapers. The nature of newspaper work is collaborative and time and money intensive. So we should all be terrified that newspapers across the country are folding. But many people online don’t seem too worried, because they seem to assume that someone will automatically step in to fill the void.

    I agree that blogs, at their best, are an excellent complement to newspapers. Provided they don’t just steal content, a la HuffPo.

    But those who dance on the graves of newspapers, apparently thinking that the work papers do will spontaneously appear on the Internet somewhere, piss me off beyond belief.

    As far as paying for online content. I think people will pay. Either that or they’ll be uninformed. Provided newspapers simultaneously start cracking down on copyright infringements.

    This coming from someone who regularly uses other people’s photos when I blog.

    Credit isn’t enough these days, folks are going to have to start paying.


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