Don’t panic, loyal readers: I haven’t been indicted. (Yet.) This isn’t about that.
I just heard that two of my great inspirations, DNAinfo and The Gothamist, are ending publication after eight amazing years.
And let me guess: You’ve never heard of them.
Well, that’s just how it goes for independent local publications these days. We hear all this griping about how only six corporations control all our news, everything we see and hear — and yet, in the midst of our indignation and horror and cries of “Fake News”, nobody ever bothers to support the little guy.
Not that DNAinfo and The Gothamist are all that little. They’re run by an eccentric billionaire, for one thing; between them, they net half a million hits per day — per day! (I’m lucky to break a hundred.) But, despite that, what they do is simply not profitable. And what they do is what we profess we want: They report on stories of local interest, things that constantly get missed by the big broadcasters because nobody cares.
And at the end of the day, that’s true: We don’t care. Oh, when we’re confronted by a big event, something egregious the networks fail to cover or proof of major bias in their reporting, then we’re up in arms. But when it comes down to it, we’re quite capable of going to CNN, Facebook, or God help us Twitter Moments for our daily news fix — never mind that, of the three, only CNN has even the basic pretensions toward journalistic ethics.
Here’s the thing: DNAinfo reported on stories of local interest — in the biggest city in the nation. Think about that for a minute: In the largest local media market in the world, it has been demonstrated pretty conclusively that an independent and unbiased press doing original reporting can’t compete, can’t even pay its own bills. If they can’t, how can the rest of us?
A hundred years ago, what we think of today as journalistic ethics didn’t exist; stories were often composed of half-truths, rumors, outright lies, and wishful thinking. Two centuries ago, politicians competed to buy up their own stable of newspapers as a first step in their campaigns. We have a tradition of unbiased journalism — but historically it’s largely been observed only in its absence.
Today is no different. I’ve written about it pretty exhaustively; I won’t bore you with it again (unless you really want me to). But the bottom line is, We The Consumers want entertainment, not journalism. We demand it, in fact, and anyone that fails to deliver will wind up in the dustbin.
O. Henry tells us that every good tale has a twist at the end, rather like a hangman’s noose. This one’s no different.
In the New York Times article about the closing, they concentrate on how it was a sudden decision reached immediately after the reporters voted to unionize. Which of course is the precise truth; the Times draws the line at an out-and-out lie. What they minimize, and in some ways fail completely to mention, is that this was a very minor event at the end of a long and crushing battle to be profitable; that the business, which had been downsizing, failed because it can’t generate enough revenue.
But the Times spins it as “textbook union-busting tactics.”
Hooray for the unbiased press.