Monday, October 15, 2012

Nicholas Lemann: Journalism Is Doing Just Fine - The Daily Beast:

Anyway, Lemann forcefully rejects the idea of some previous golden age of media, a His Girl Friday idyll when “things were better” for journalism, journalists, and consumers. “There was more carnage in the big city newspaper business between 1950 and 1975 than there has been between 1995 and today,” he says. It was a brutal time to be a newspaper man, when many big cities transitioned from highly competitive markets to single newspaper towns. “Everyone thinks that 20 years ago, some problem or another didn’t exist,” Lemann insists. But there was never a time when one could reliably earn a salary and pensions as, say, a long-form journalist or documentary filmmaker. Back in the good old days, newspapers routinely went bankrupt and media monopolies were common. “People tend to feel, whatever the pressing problem of the moment, that humans before me didn’t have to deal with it.”

And Lemann also bats away the complaint that the new media outlets that do exist are destructively partisan. It’s a consistent question—one he often fields, he says, from those who long for an authoritative voice, a 21st-century Walter Cronkite. “What they are really saying is—and they don’t think they are saying this—that a world of less press freedom, a sort of managed oligopoly, is paradise.” In other words, more is almost always better. And the nostalgics can take comfort that the opinion media complex isn’t a recent invention: “Journalism was opinion journalism from about 1700 to 1900.”