Wednesday, March 04, 2009

We won't know what we won't know

Infinite Monkey Ben Boychuk offers his own take on my NRO piece with typical aplomb.

It's not that the media does a fabulous job all of the time. And God knows the nation's newsrooms are teeming with liberal do-gooders. The news media is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. Deadline pressures and an often poor grasp of the nuances of particular issues and industries undermine good journalism. It was ever thus, and probably always will be.

But who's going to rake the muck when the last city reporter is hanged by the entrails of the last advertising manager? Glenn Reynolds? Your next door neighbor? You?

From the e-mail reactions I've received to the piece so far, some well-read, thoughtful conservatives still harbor a striking amount of ignorance about the role of newspapers. It's not to validate your worldview, whatever that might be. The news and business sections are supposed to inform readers about the workings of government and other public institutions and how they affect your world.

One writer, from Santa Cruz, Calif., pointed out that his local paper is hopelessly in the tank for county government and that two school board members were actually on staff at the paper. All I could do was offer my sympathies. I echo those sentiments for anyone living in California these days.

Several wrote in generic terms to condemn the Rocky for not digging deeply enough into Barack Obama's past to prove that he was too dangerous to elect to the presidency. A couple actually praised the Chicago dailies for doing just that without acknowledging the irony. Obama's from Chicago. We're in Denver. The local media in the Windy City did its job, and guess what? You could read their coverage online.

The Denver dailies were more interested in using their limited resources to cover local politics. The newsrooms of both papers were a good deal smaller in 2008 than they were for the last election, so there were fewer people to cover the campaigns. Were they supposed to further neglect the races close to home and parachute into Chicago to dig up dirt on Obama?

This is another blind spot conservatives have a hard time acknowledging. They flay the mainstream media and heap praises on Fox News without recognizing that Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity will not cover the days and days of hearings during which Colorado's regulations covering oil and natural gas exploration were rewritten. If you want to understand the intricacies of that process, and how they will affect energy production, tourism, wildlife protection and economic growth, you've got to rely on newspaper or wire service reporters. Rush won't do it for you.

New media allow local outlets to be more intensely local than ever before. Why should they stray from their own backyards -- especially when you can easily track down coverage from other folks' backyards for free on the Web?

Another correspondent said he canceled his subscriptions to the Rocky and the Post because he thought both were hopelessly left-wing, and as evidence cited this story from yesteday's Denver Post about a, shall we say, unconventional family.

First of all, the story was in the Lifestyles section. It wasn't a news report. But my correspondent said the story made it obvious that the Post believes gay marriage should be celebrated, raising kids in nontraditional homes is no different than male/female arrangements, etc., and that "there is no reason for me to pay for those opinions."

Read the whole thing. Without question, it's a very sympathetic portrayal of a nontraditional family. But it doesn't pretend that everything's rosy in this mixed household. Besides, it's a fascinating story, though the presumed message it sent about gay parenting was beyond the pale, in my correspondent's view.

To that, all I can say is what Claude Sitton, former editorial page editor of the News and Observer in Raleigh, wrote to me a quarter century ago when I complained to him about the strident anti-free-market positions he took in his columns: If you don't like what I write, you can surely find something to enjoy in the other parts of the newspaper.

I took his advice. Sad to say, a lot of conservatives seem to be less willing to overlook those objectionable parts than I was. And our civic culture is less informed as a result.

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