The Washington Post

Cheezburger’s Ben Huh: Weingarten is confusing journalism with the business of newspapers

Journalism still has much to learn about timeliness when an oft-awarded columnist like Gene Weingarten is 34 days late to a story. Journalism still has much to learn about reporting when the writer of the story was actually never present at the event. Journalism still has much to learn about the audience it supposedly serves when it continues to ignore the wants of its readership.

It pains me to watch how much obstructionism blocks the progress of some well-meaning journalists, regardless of the humorous nature of Gene’s column. I find most journalism gatherings depressing and it’s not because their business is failing. It’s depressing in the way old high school football jocks commiserate at a dive bar talking about the glory days -- for the 30th year in a row.

Journalism, particularly newspapers, have been fleecing America for decades and the bill has come due. Before the Internet, geography and distance has been a costly barrier to information. In fact, newspapers have exploited this to their enormous financial and social advantage, going as far as having Congress pass the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 -- which exempted them from certain antitrust laws.

For decades, newspapers have used their power to charge inflated advertising rates, fill the paper with commodity wire articles, and pretend to act in the best interest of the community while ignoring their needs. With that, the vibrance and competitiveness of journalism withered on the vine. “Objectivity” became the religion, not serving the readers. Change was bad, and the status quo filled the coffers.

Until the Internet came along.

When any company loses their competitive edge, they are wiped from the planet by those who better understand and better fit the needs of their customers. When an entire industry loses its competitive edge, cantankerous old fuds complain about the good old days using column inches.

Even while I was in journalism school in the go-go days of late 1990s, the disdain and envy of print journalists towards TV journalists was palpable. Why? Newspapers have been in trouble since the TV arrived. The granting of regional monopoly status to dozens of papers only made life more expensive for small business, advertisers and the public. Yet it didn’t prevent the hard and fast death of many of these papers.

Gene is confusing journalism with the business of newspapers. Journalism is thriving, thanks to cheap and easy means of publishing like Wordpress, the huge interest by the readership, and increase in the diversity of opinions. Sure, the new journalism may not look like the journalism of yore, but society isn’t under threat from the lack of journalism. Newspapers, however, are continuing to see declines as the readership shrinks due to an age demographic, inconvenience of print, and shrinking budgets.

As long as newspapers want to be in business, journalists must learn to be accountable to business and prioritize the delivery of a great service -- even if it sounds as ridiculous as posting silly cat photos with your article, as super-sleuth Kara Swisher has done at AllThingsD for years.

Alexandra Petri understands that in her column when she asks “isn’t this more noble? To give people what they really want?”

What’s killing newspapers isn’t the lack of new ideas, it’s people who obstruct the change that’s required to survive.

Well, that and the lack of LOLcats in the Washington Post.

Ben Huh is the founder and CEO of Cheezburger, the world’s largest humor destination online. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and considers himself an armchair editor. He’s also the founder of the Moby Dick Project dedicated to the question “how would news be presented and curated if it was born today?”


Gene Weingarten: Modern journalism meets LOLcats

Alexandra Petri: Gene Weingarten is wrong about bacon-cats and journalism

Ask The Post: Gene Weingarten on ONA: Did he get it wrong?


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