Thursday, June 25, 2009

One-time reporter, 'Wired' creator testifies about newspapers, blasts new and old media as short-sighted

Former Baltimore Sun journalist David Simon is now better known as the creative force behind HBO's series The Wire, and that helped him gain some attention when he testified about newspapers this spring on Capitol Hill.

Simon didn't mince words in leveling blame at "old-media" ownership more than changes in technology, although he scoffed at the notion of "new media" bloggers and citizen journalists somehow replacing well-trained, dedicated and competent professional journalists.

"Readers acquire news from the aggregators [for free] and abandon its point of origin – namely, the newspapers themselves," he said. "The parasite is slowly killing the host."

And old media? Here's an excerpt:

“When you hear a newspaper executive claiming that his industry is an essential bulwark of society and that it stands threatened by a new technology that is, as of yet, unready to shoulder the same responsibility, you may be inclined to empathize. And indeed, that much is true enough as it goes,” he said.

“But when that same newspaper executive then goes on to claim that this predicament has occurred through no fault on the industry's part, that they have merely been undone by new technologies, feel free to kick out his teeth. At that point, he's as fraudulent as the most self-aggrandized blogger.

“In short, my industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place.

“When locally-based, family-owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly-owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed.

“Economically, the disconnect is now obvious. What do newspaper executives in Los Angeles or Chicago care whether or not readers in Baltimore have a better newspaper, especially when you can make more putting out a mediocre paper than a worthy one? The profit margin was all. And so, where family ownership might have been content with 10 or 15 percent profit, the chains demanded double that and more, and the cutting began – long before the threat of new technology was ever sensed…

“Absent this basic and belated acknowledgment that content has value -- if indeed it still does after so many destructive buyouts and layoffs – and that content is what ultimately matters, I don't think anything else can save high-end, professional journalism."

His complete testimony is online at --