Effect Measure — inspired by a thoughtful note from bird-flu ace reporter Helen Branswell — ponders the implications of the increasing lack of specialization, and thus deep subject-specific expertise, among MSM reporters.
The conclusion we draw from this is that if you really want to know what’s going on
in the flu world you shouldn’t depend on newspapers as a source of information but go to the next (meta)level, where news, comment, the peer reviewed science literature and the gray literature of official reports, press releases, and rumor filters are done better (or at least different) than most any newspaper or wire service. We can’t do without the wireservices and newspapers. They are an essential part of the news infrastructure. But just as a bridge is necessary to get from place to place, it isn’t the sole means for getting from one point to another. It is infrastructure. In today’s world a wireservice or newspaper can no longer be depended upon as a main source of news, either because it is is incomplete, presents only a biased fragment of the truth or has become a stenographic tool for official sources. The days when these were the sole source of news are over, anyway. The internet has transformed everything.
This has happened so fast that there has been a lot of dislocation and loss of valuable journalistic talent. We can’t do anything about that. We have to take the world as it is.
This strikes me as a more constructive and helpful way to view the MSM v citizen media/blogosphere question than who’s more or less corrupted or jaded or co-opted. It highlights not just cultural preconceptions but the economic limitations of each side. MSM journalists are increasingly hard-pressed by the economics of MSM to have the time and breadth of knowledge needed for deeply informed, perspective-giving reportage, but can still be good at getting the facts; citizenjournoss and bloggers often have deeper background knowledge but aren’t in a position to do the original reporting. Together than can get some good things done.
I would note that one value of the biggest, most serious MSM outlets — places like the Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic — is that they DO have journalists who specialize and have deep knowledge of (and contacts in) their beats.