Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Since one of my jobs involves preparing young men and women for the world of professional journalism, the collapse of newspapers interests me. No question: it doesn't look good for print. Unless advertisers heavily reinvest in print journalism, newspapers will go the way of the telegraph. Online journalism, however, is healthier than ever. If only ad/PR firms would start gearing their operations towards the growing segments of their readership base who depend on their computers for news, any news. The only people I know who still buy or subscribe to newspapers – the ones who fetishize the Sunday morning ritual of, to quote Wallace Stevens, late coffee, oranges, and sunny chairs – are those who work in newspapers.

Anyway, as a recent convert to "The Wire," I was disappointed by how facile creator David Simon's insights into the business were. It's as if the unconcealed contempt that give Simon interviews their pungent kick finally crimped his art; he moralized instead of delineated. He's too close to the material: at least when he's dealing with the world of corners, the re-up game, public schools, and the Neapolitan intrigue of the Baltimore police force he can rely on imagination to support the facts. The Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat agrees – "a score-settling retread of Shattered Glass," he writes. More:
At a moment of maximum crisis for American newspapers, with daily paper after daily paper collapsing into mediocrity under the pressure of collapsing revenues, David Simon decided to use his HBO soapbox to rail against ... the newspaper industry's obsession with Pulitzer-bait stories. It's the equivalent of doing an entire season about the plight of the American inner city in which the drug war was a presence, but way in the background, and the story focused primarily on the evils of, I don't know, check-cashing services or something.

7 comments:

Anthony said...

I was really disappointed with the journalism stuff too. It was monotonous, the characters were one-dimensional, you just wanted to yell WE GET IT WE GET IT. The school season could get a little preachy, but the kids were nuanced enough to make it interesting. From what I've heard about Generation Kill, it sounds like Simon is taking his success as a chance to hammer a point, when what we loved was how he presented us a world.

Anonymous said...

Completely disagree. This is an example of journalists not being able to take thier own medicine. The story of Season 5 is what the newspapers do NOT cover - what they miss. Which is a lot.

As Simon says we need to be concerned with the "WHY" when it comes to journalism. This rarely happens anymore, or maybe it rarely ever has happened?

Alfred Soto said...

The cartoonish treatment of the Stephen Glass fabulist -- Cary Grant's editor in "His Girl Friday" was more convincing than the buffoon of a managing editor -- did Simon no favors. Plus, The Secret Sharer shit -- McNulty and the reporter realizing they're both liars -- was REALLY facile.

Richard Cobeen said...

I am currently re-watching season five and also couldn't disagree more. The first half of the season focuses on some of the reasons for failing newspapers, both financially and structurally. The lying reporter, and his connection to McNulty's fake murders, are nothing compared to a police captain creating a no drug arrest zone. And, of course, only McNulty realizes they are both liars, at least until the end. They are lying for different reasons and for different results, which is a main reason it is anything but facile.

Richard Cobeen said...

I forgot to mention that using Ross Douthat to reinforce an opinion on anything is not a winning hand to play. Douthat is cynical about Simon from the get go. Simon's world view is one that Douthat doesn't agree with and has no use for, so his attempt to claim that he loves the previous seasons of the Wire fail to convince me.

Alfred Soto said...

Douthat was useful for my purposes.

smw said...

Firmly in the "agree" camp on this one. Season 5 had much to recommend it, but the newspaper stuff was the weakest of any threads on the entire show (and some of the writing was barely above Lou Grant-level sermonizing).