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newspapers are the only means

Over at the Guardian UK, yet another reporter, Henry Porter blames Google for killing newspapers, and fostering what he claims is an Amoral Menace. He drags up all of the old arguments about piracy, and other crimes. He blathers on for a while until we get to the heart of his rant, that being Google is killing the newspaper industry and offers this chestnut as justification:

“newspapers are the only means of holding local hospitals, schools, councils and the police to account, and on a national level they are absolutely essential for the good functioning of democracy.”

This is bullshit on so many levels as to be almost laughable. When you look at your local newspaper, see how much is actual local reporting by boots on the ground vs regurgitated crap by-lined by one of the wire services. Since a lot of cities and towns have gone online, the need to have ‘professional’ reportage, is nowhere as dire as Porter would have us believe. Anybody with a computer and a few moments with a search engine, and yes there are alternatives to Google, can find just about anything on any issue in their own home town, your home town, or some place that you will probably never see. The internet has opened up all of these local areas to the floodlights of citizen participation.

An interesting case in point locally is the Phoenix police raiding the home of blogger Jeff Pataky, who runs Bad Phoenix Cops, who has been critical of the department. This is a significant story as a lot of the information that Jeff publishes comes from sources inside the Phoenix Police Department. Additionally, despite the fact that the police seized his computers, modems and files, he is still publishing, from anywhere he can find an internet connection. You cannot say that about local newpaper operations in the case of catastrophe.

He then points out how evil Google is with this:

“Despite the aura of heroic young enterprise that still miraculously attaches to the web, what we are seeing is a much older and toxic capitalist model – the classic monopoly that destroys industries and individual enterprise in its bid for ever greater profits. Despite its diversification, Google is in the final analysis a parasite that creates nothing, merely offering little aggregation, lists and the ordering of information generated by people who have invested their capital, skill and time.”

That sounds awfully familiar, considering the revenue model that has driven newspapers which for the most part enjoy a monopolistic position outside of major metro areas, out of the news business and into the advertising business. As for little aggregation, again I point to how much of local news is actually in local newspapers vs wire service copy.

As for ordering of information, whose fault is it that news organizations use the AP style,(putting the conclusion of the article in the first paragraph, and using the rest of the story as filler), making going any further an exercise in regurgitation.

One other note. Somebody who whines about ‘individual enterprise’ while collecting a paycheck from a organization that held a monopolistic position might to examine their own role in that toxic capitalist model.

But he is still not done. He figures that he has one last card to play, the censorship card.

There is a brattish, clever amorality about Google that allows it to censor the pages on its Chinese service without the slightest self doubt, store vast quantities of unnecessary information about every Google search, and menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny.

Here is the problem with censorship. It is a concept that brings out fear, uncertainty and doubt. Censorship takes many forms. I wonder how many stories Henry has had ‘spiked’ or killed, by some editor or other management wienie, due to a conflict of interest, of editorial ‘guidance’, or advertising pressures. This is censorship. No I do not buy the chinese wall argument. There have been too many reported cases where pressure from advertisers and or ‘interested’ parties have distorted reporting. And when they get caught they look like assholes, and credibility crashes.

Another interesting look on censorship is the standard usage of unnamed sources, and the refusal to publish documents, notes and background materials that go into newspaper stories. Yes it is true that newspapers have limited space, but whose fault is that? On the internet we can publish and provide links to our source materials, so that the readers can make up their own minds, so the actual ‘good functioning of democracy’ can take place. Keeping that in mind, newspapers online and news organizations are still producing Father Knows Best reporting, telling us what they think we need to know . This is censorship of a far subtle nature and just as damaging than anything Winston Smith in 1984 was subjected to.

‘Storing vast quantities of unnecessary information’ is a real gem especially in view of newspaper sites that use cookies for tracking, use third party advertising servers, having pop ups, pop unders, require registrations for commenting on those sites that even embrace that concept, and use that self same information to sell more advertising, cutting up stories requiring multiple page views, creating more advertising, and collecting yet more information, that in the final analysis does more to ‘menace the delicate instruments of democratic scrutiny‘, than any search engine.

The newspaper industry in its current mold is dead, and the collateral damage to reporters is as real as it gets. But blaming somebody else for the failure of a system that was the precursor of what is replacing it, is just a failure to get the facts, and to adapt.

1 comment to newspapers are the only means

  • This Henry Porter, I’m sure he must be an educated man to be a columnist for Guardian, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that by what he writes. Every single point he makes is just an affront to my sensibilities. What really stuck in my craw was the fallacies of requiring platform holders to police themselves with 100% perfection before any user-generated content can be uploaded. If anyone were to try that, they simply wouldn’t be able to get off the ground.