The decline of rational argument

225626046_a2bf5db0dc_m.jpgIt was touching to read a journalism professor’s stirring defence of traditional journalism and criticism of newspaper cutbacks in the San Francisco Chronicle — particularly since the Chronicle is losing about 25 per cent of its staff due to cost cutting. And I was totally with Neil Henry until about halfway through, when his argument went off the rails in an all-too predictable way. He starts off talking about the attacks on traditional journalism, including:

“The Chronicle’s announcement earlier this month that 100 newsroom jobs will be slashed in the coming weeks in the face of mounting financial woes represents just the latest chapter in a tragic story of traditional journalism’s decline.”

Fair enough. A little over-dramatic, perhaps, but still — journalism is kind of going through a pretty strenuous transformation or evolution. Fine.

“As a result, newspapers such as The Chronicle must make staff cuts to survive — and increasingly it is highly skilled professional journalists committed to seeking the truth and reporting it, independently and without fear or favor, who must go.”

Still with you, Neil. Professional journalism is valuable, and should be supported. Carry on.

Idolaters of Web-based news and information sites, “citizen”-produced journalism, and the blogosphere of individual self-publishers, often argue that old mainstays such as The Chronicle are, in fact, getting only what they deserve.”

Whoop! Whoop! Warning bells are going off. Idolaters? Seems a little over-the-top.

“There are plenty of alternatives on the Web to take traditional journalism’s place, including the millions of bloggers opining about the news, not to mention powerful news aggregators such as Google and Yahoo whose computerized search robots harvest riches of news and other content provided by others — and generate billions of dollars in annual profits for their owners.”

Okay, now I see where we’re going with this. It’s all Google and Yahoo’s fault for stealing newspaper readers, and they should cough up some dough to keep papers in business (just out of curiosity, why is it always the robots who get bad-mouthed in these things? They just do what they’re told).

I guess I should have expected it, considering Neil’s book is entitled “American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media.” But still — it didn’t make any sense when Sam Zell said it — or the World Newspaper Association, or the Belgian newspaper group — and it doesn’t make any now. Newspapers may be in trouble, but blaming Google is a cop-out.

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