Farting in the Church of Liebling


Slate's Jack Shafer, who is to The New York Times what A.J. Weberman is to Bob Dylan, takes a break from documenting the shoddiness of the Gray Lady's weather forecasts long enough to play devil's advocate to the much-loved, little-read, and wildly overappreciated patron saint of blowhard press critics everywhere, A.J. Liebling:

By letting his politics determine his views of the press, he missed the biggest story of his time?the Cold War?and allowed himself to get too close to Alger Hiss to see his deceit. His inordinate love of print caused him to overworry about the consolidation of newspapers. For instance, he falsely predicted that New York City would become a one- or two-newspaper town by 1975, and because he held a static, zero-sum idea of markets, he could never have predicted how broadcast outlets, magazines, weekly newspapers, and finally the Internet would produce an editorial variety that dwarfs the New York newspaper scene of his youth.

The whole thing, which is well worth reading, is here.

NEXT: Taking the G out of GOP

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  1. I’m sorry Nick, but you’re not allowed to have more than one A.J. in a post.

  2. Slate in general is to the NYT what Chloe Sevigne is to Vincent Gallo.

  3. Why do you want to make Matt Welch cry so much?

    (Every time Welch finds an old Liebling paperback, he gets very excited & manages to quote from it in his next dozen columns.)

    Liebling — like Mencken, I guess — does seem to be one of those names thrown around by Serious Media people, and it gets boring trying to pay attention to his 40-year-old columns about long-dead people. But even if his fears about the NYC newspaper scene didn’t come true, the one-paper town (or, at best, two fake “competing” dailies under a JOA) did become reality in most other decent-sized U.S. cities: Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento, New Orleans, San Diego, D.C. until Rev. Moon came to town, to name a few, etc.

    Whatever the merits of new mediums, it is arguably true that one-paper towns are less lively & open than two-newspaper towns, just as the wire copy that fills our tv/radio newscasts & remaining dailies is tremendously less interesting & revealing now that AP & UPI aren’t duking it out in every state capitol & metro area.

    New media is (I hope) eventually going to thrive as a primary news source in all market sizes, but at the moment — 10 years after the first Web publications began, with great fanfare — the only source of daily news gathering in the overwhelming majority of U.S. cities is the local monopoly chain daily. This is the source for your all news/talk local radio, your local tv newscasts, pretty much everything beyond live fire & car-crash coverage.

    Weeklies, mags, funny “gotcha” segments on Action News Consumer Watch, features from the NPR affiliate, and local-market media-critic Web sites add something important, but as of yet they aren’t an alternative to the dull & expensive process of having a bunch of low-paid beat reporters hanging around the police station or city hall.

    I think the next interesting metro-news development will be all-online local papers. Whoever starts a successful local-news site with a dozen reporters & just as many ad salespeople will be a Hero, and will make Liebling smile from his grave. When a 200-employee Gannett daily with 60,000 circulation & a two-acre printing & office complex is fighting for its life with a handful of people working from a 1,200-square-foot minimall suite, even the dullest town is going to get a lot more interesting.

  4. Couldn’t predict the internet 40 years ago? What an ignoramus!

  5. If wonder if the only difference between one and two newspaper towns is that there are more parakeets living in the two newspaper towns.

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