[Fear not, no real spoilers to follow…]
In an interview with Salon, The Wire creator David Simon defends himself against the complaint that the fifth season of the show doesn’t address the role of the internet in the decline of newspapers:
If you’re saying that there needed to be scenes of the Internet interacting with journalism and bringing down journalism, I will now write you a scene: Interior, garden apartment anywhere. A white male, mid-30s, sits at a laptop computer in his underwear, linking to a Baltimore Sun story. He then scratches his left testicle until satisfied and continues to type commentary about that story onto his blog. Cut to drug corner, and on to the next scene.
The impact of the Internet is that it’s pulling the froth of commentary and debate off the top of first-generation news gathering, leaving newspapers with only a first-generation role for themselves, which is not enough for them to sustain readers, and so they’re losing young readers. By and large, excusing the fact that there are some first-generation journalists going out and acquiring new information directly for the Web, the vast majority of the Internet is reaction and debate and commentary — some of it brilliant. But I don’t run into a lot of Internet reporters at council meetings and in courthouses.
Earlier in the interview, Simon laments that the newspapers pissed away their chance to charge for content. I think that misses the point. Ad revenue already makes up 85% of a print newspaper’s budget. The 50 cents you pay for the paper itself is mostly symbolic.
But to his latter point, I think that’s spot on. There is an opportunity for more information gathering to be done by bloggers. I’ve tried to do that a bit with Orphan Road, but it’s hard when you have no money and have to work another job. I think there’s potential in that model, though. TPM has obviously made a go of that, and had great success.
A new generation of reporters is going to figure out how to combine (a) first-person reporting with (b) the emotional bond that bloggers have with their readers, and (c) make money through advertising or syndication or simply by going on salary with a traditional news organization, and have a really successful business on their hands.