That’s kind of what Michael Hastings is implying at BuzzFeed — kind of would be putting it kindly, as Hastings’ last major piece meant the end of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s career — and in the wake of a couple days of profiles and writing where Petraeus is lionized once again and Paula Broadwell gets slammed in ways that are way beyond the pale by people looking to protect themselves or their associations with the general, it’s worth asking the questions, both about Petraeus and journalists who lose the plot and become embedded.
Spencer Ackerman admits to his own complicity in the lionizing of Petraeus, and Andrew Sullivan reveals his interactions with the general at a salon he was invited to when he was still at the Atlantic.
The badness has nothing to do with financial viability. It’s clear that the Web has made receiving summaries of the news that was a week later an absurd luxury and Newsweek’s subscription and circulation numbers have reflected that — no matter how many stupid cover stunts Tina Brown came up with.
But the decision is bad for the overall media marketplace because all this talk of going digital presumes that we are all wired to the web in the same way. Yes, access to the mobile web is expanding through the availability of lower-cost smartphones, pre-paid data plans, etc. — but there’s still a digital divide to observe if one is lower middle-class or poor. If journalistic work is going to be hidden behind a monthly pay wall instead of available at the news stand for a few bucks, who gets access to journalism and who becomes the target market for said journalism?
What I’m trying to imply here is that the rushing of traditional print publications into reduced print schedules or the abandoning of print schedules is likely to result in journalism swinging harder to appeal to the people who can afford to access it — meaning fewer articles asking about poverty, the safety net for those who really need it, less on labor and its declining worth, more geared toward the owners of businesses or those aspiring to own or manage. This is what we fear with newspapers potentially reducing their schedules (or actually doing so, in the case of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.)
In short: this is journalism heading for a path where it reassures the comfortable and either ignores or “others” the afflicted.
From my own experience on Newsweek’s Website: We didn’t have fact checkers, for reasons of timeliness as well as budgets. What we did have is a) an expectation from the writers that they would be honest and factual in their reporting and b) an expectation that the Website editors wouldn’t let outrageous bullshit through the system.
In the Ferguson story, Newsweek clearly fell down on both accounts. But I am certain this isn’t the norm, for them or for other media orgs.
This is a major, major problem.
If budget concerns at a purported journalistic source with some respect behind its name (whether in print or on the web) result in it not having fact checkers working for any end it publishes content on, it might as well cease to publish for all the good it will do.
You cannot rely solely on the honor of the people who write the material you publish. That is why copy editors exist; that is why researchers existed. Someone has to look over it with some manner of critical eye, from the basest feature or silliest TV news story to the most important, Pulitzer-winning print series.
If you can’t afford some manner of fact-checking, hang it up and call it a day.