Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Why is everyone mad at the mainstream media?", is the subtitle of a recent New Yorker article by renowned journalist and author Nicholas Lemann. "Mainstream journalists want to think that the public is aware of--and respects--the boundaries that separate real journalism from entertainment, and opinion, and propaganda, and marketing," he writes. It appears, though, that "instead, the public....doesn’t accept that [real journalism] really is distinct and superior." Lemann, deeply concerned, set out to investigate.

And where would this esteemed scribe go to study the American news-consuming public, and to try to understand its newfound disdain for "real journalism"? Intrepid fact-finder that he is, Lemann seeks out....Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times; Ann Marie Lipinski, editor-in-chief of the Chicago Tribune; Leonard Downie, Jr., editor-in-chief of the Washington Post; Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time magazine; James Warren, the deputy managing editor for features at the Tribune; Don Wycliff, the Tribune’s public editor; Neal Shapiro, the president of NBC News; and--for a couple of paragraphs,three-quarters of the way through the piece--a single non-journalist: Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee.

Of course, those were only the interviewees Lemann actually quoted in the article. He may have talked to more people, since he mentions that he "spoke to the heads of several large news organizations". According to him, "all of them maintained that they get attacked from both political sides, and agreed that both the amplitude and the frequency of the attacks seem to be increasing." Generally, though, the editors were baffled as to the causes of "the constant low hum of political objection to what they do." Keller offered, "I think conservatives feel this way in part because for years they’ve been told they should feel this way." Warren "was frustrated that what seems obvious to him and his colleagues evidently doesn’t to their audience." Says Wycliff: "I just think the people out there who write to me, who call me, they do not have the governors on their behavior that we have in our industry."

According to Lemann, "[t]his is what journalists in the mainstream media are starting to worry about: what if people don’t believe in us, don’t want us, anymore?" He set out to answer this question, asked a bunch of fellow journalists, and got nowhere. Yet the answer was right there, in plain sight, in his own magazine article--if only he'd made the tiniest effort to look at it, for once in his life, from a slightly different perspective.

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