I've Got News for You, David Simon

By Sara Libby
Wednesday, January 23, 2008; 6:00 PM

I was absolutely dumbfounded by David Simon's recent article in Outlook in which he suggests not only that the era of eager, dedicated journalists is over, but that nobody even cares about the news anymore. Ultimately, as Simon himself admits, his assessment should be taken for what it is: the musings of someone who ditched a career in newspapers for a more lucrative job in Hollywood.

Much like the stubborn movie buffs who insist good film died with actors like Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda, Simon similarly laments that the corps of youngsters that packed journalism schools in the 1970s were the last great generation of journalists. In reality, journalism school enrollments have been climbing -- even in the face of plagiarism scandals, declining circulations and overall anxiety about the future of the business.

Unlike Simon, I work for a newspaper. (Also unlike Simon, I am young.) Like most of my friends just starting out, I became a journalist not out of a brief curiosity or a fleeting excitement brought on by a viewing of "All the President's Men," but because we want to do work that matters. None of my journalism school classmates or my current colleagues got into the news business for the money. Rather, many took jobs at tiny community papers in small towns like Adrian, Mich., and Palmdale, Calif., or at obscure trade publications, just to stick with the news business.

Certainly the Web and the proliferation of online news sites have changed the business dramatically. No one is refuting that. Newspaper readership has been declining for decades, and young people today simply don't subscribe to, buy or even read actual newspapers.

But change and doom are two different animals.

Older readers like Simon may bemoan their increasingly thin papers. But a whole new generation of Internet-savvy youngsters is being introduced to newspapers on the Web. There they can post links to their favorite stories on social networking sites like Facebook, compete against each other in online news quizzes and gain exposure to different opinions and coverage. Every day, my friends, family members and I trade e-mail about what we read online. My best friend and I, who exchange dozens of e-mails daily, gossip just as feverishly -- and as frequently -- about Ronald Brownstein's political insights as we do about Britney and Lindsay's latest shenanigans.

Perhaps I notice people's news-gathering habits more than most because ultimately, my career depends on people staying interested in the news. But to be honest, I see people who care about the news everywhere. On Saturday mornings, my local coffee shop is packed with people poring through their papers. On a recent trip to my hometown, I was stopped by dozens of people -- some of whom I hadn't seen in years -- who congratulated me on an article I'd written for my hometown newspaper several months earlier.

Some of the turmoil in the newspaper business that Simon describes is real. Internal struggles and firings, mostly related to proposed budget cuts, at the Los Angeles Times have made headlines this week. Papers across the country are dealing with similar issues.

The fact remains, however, that Americans are genuinely and intensely concerned about news. Suggesting otherwise might be a good plot device for Hollywood dream weavers like Simon. But that story is purely fiction.

The writer is legal editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company