George Will, the Washington Post, and the Death of Newspapers

My Science Progress column is now up: I try to set the George Will scandal in the broader context of what's happening in the media:

We often hear that "technology" is what's killing newspapers--innovations like Craig's List have destroyed the in-print classified advertising market; people have stopped reading physical papers and turned to online headlines from news aggregators or blogs; and so on. But there are also matters of substance and standards, and if the Post editorial page can't even print correct facts about global warming (or correct already printed errors), then how to make the case that we still need these hallowed gray newspapers to police our society and discourse?

In this sense, I view the George Will affair with sadness. Sure, I share in the temporary glee of the bloggers. But at the same time, I know there are many kinds of journalism, particularly about science, that bloggers will never replace. They're extremely well-equipped to pounce and skewer a George Will column, but hardly well equipped to deliver an investigative or narrative feature story. We're watching the media change before our eyes, the science media in particular--and no one can say, in light of episodes like the latest one involving George Will, that much of old media doesn't in some sense "deserve" what's happening to it now. Yet if our only sentiment is joy over the bloggers' latest trophy, or outrage at the Post, we're missing something deep indeed.

Some bloggers seem to think this piece is hard on them; precisely the opposite was intended. I think it's amazing that bloggers have basically destroyed the credibility of both George Will and the Washington Post editorial page. Both seem to deserve it; bloggers gave it to them. Bravo. But I also lament the decline of our newspapers--even though much of it is their own fault, as in this instance--and worry that without them, we won't be better off.

You can read the full column here.

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I interpreted the column as something we all feel -- I desperately want the newspaper to survive, but I'm not waiting around for them to get their act together. They can either improve, or we have to go around them.

What is so frustrating is that papers don't seem to want to survive, or are no longer capable of making the right decisions that will save them.

"... bloggers have basically destroyed the credibility of both George Will and the Washington Post editorial page."

Ah well, Will and the Post today. Global Warming tomorrow. Petard. Hoist. Rinse and repeat.

By vanderleun (not verified) on 25 Feb 2009 #permalink

Good piece. We all want to see the MSM publishing good science pieces, but seriously, if they can't do that and want to invite hacks to hold forth on science-related topics, then they should simply get rid of their science sections (Of course, they are already doing this for entirely different and depressing economic reasons). It would be sad, but still better than publishing highly misleading hokum.

Well said. This is an aside--but I was recently browsing archives of The Globe and Mail (Canadian paper) for spring of 1885. I was surprised to see that classifieds were on the front page! Situations vacant, situations wanted, property for sale. A ten room house went for $3500.

I remember when the Register was an IT tabloid, before it went down the path of AGW denialism. Another sad decline.

"I remember when the Register was an IT tabloid, before it went down the path of AGW denialism."

Hey some publications have to keep their independence and integrity intact, they can't all be fellow travelers.

By vanderleun (not verified) on 25 Feb 2009 #permalink

To those who are hoping that the day newspapers will be dead, people like George Will will disappear: how naive. Does the name Matt Drudge ring a bell?