There has been a lot of commentary about George Will attacking the observed phenomenon of global warming by referring to a poor analysis of research findings–an analysis that has been refuted by the study’s authors. This has been followed by discussions of the future of journalism and other such rending of garments. For me, what L’affair Will highlights is the conflict within the newspaper business about how to remain viable.
There seem to be two models (and these are admittedly caricatures):
- Have a diversity of opinion even if some opinions are nothing more than misinformation or propaganda.
- Attempt to inform the reader. That is, is the reader better informed about the world for having read the paper? This doesn’t mean that a newspaper can’t have wildly different opinions–they just have to be grounded in fact at some level.
Before you completely disdain the first model, as a business model, it might actually be quite profitable. People don’t want to be challenge all–or most–of the time. I’m sure some conservatives liked Will’s column because it confirmed their own biases. However, if you think that a more profitable model is to inform the reader (and, again, I’m not talking about differences of opinion regarding established facts), then Will needs to be repudiated. Will’s column does damage the paper’s reputation.
Of course, I don’t think reputation has much to do with newspaper purchases–force of habitat does. And the decline of newspaper reading among ‘younger’ readers (who, at this point, aren’t so young anymore) is largely a function of perceived irrelevance (good reporting is important, but setting aside a half hour to read a newspaper is not part of many people’s ‘lifestyles’ anymore).