Slate's Jack Shafer mocks the pretentions of journalists who equate the loss of even one ink-stained wretch's job with the hobbling of democracy–and in doing so celebrates the advances in technology and institutions that have given every schoolboy the sheer reportin' power of any dozen fedora-wearing, shoe-leather-consuming newshack of days gone by. Fascinating and fun throughout, it is, but here are some choice excerpts:
It's hard to sympathize with the woe-is-us crowd of journalists when you learn that the number of full-timers employed by U.S. news-media organizations today has increased by almost 70 percent compared with 1971….The idea that a newsroom should employ X hundred staffers because it has traditionally employed X hundred staffers ignores the changes technology has made in the news market…..Likewise, journalists don't want you to know this, but thanks to technology, it's never been easier to hunt down a story, capture it, and bring it back to the presses for printing. A middle-school student sitting at a Web terminal has more raw reportorial power at his fingertips than the best reporter working at the New York Times had in, say, 1975. The teenager can't command an undersecretary of defense to return his phone call as the Times guy can, but thanks to Google he can harvest news stories and background information that would take the 1975 model journalist days to collect.
The young amateur can also tap hundreds of free databases serving up scientific, legislative, regulatory, and business information in an afternoon that a team of 1975 reporters couldn't assemble in a week. Give him access to JSTOR, PubMed, Edgar, Nexis, Factiva, and other important sites and he'll write three stories in the time the '70s veteran reports one…..So, if the Los Angeles Times peaked at 1,200 reporters and it's down to about 940 now and Tribune wants to cut it further, it's hardly proof that the corporate meanies are defunding the newsroom.
Newspaper publishers presumably fund investigations because readers expect them–or because they want something to throw at the Pulitzer committee come contest time. But newspapers aren't the only organizations trolling for investigative news. The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity has broken as many stories as almost any big-city daily in the last couple of decades, as have the Center for Investigative Reporting and Chicago's Better Government Association. Activist organizations have similarly collected countless investigative scoops about human rights abuses, environmental crimes, consumer rip-offs, and more. Long before today's newsroom budget crunch, newspapers were de facto outsourcing a good share of investigative reporting to the nonprofits, whose findings they trumpeted on their front pages.