Sunday, September 23 , 2018, 7:24 pm | Partly Cloudy 62º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: The Old Media

Yes, times have changed, but if newspapers can't do their job, they won't be the only ones who suffer.

In Los Angeles, where I live, there was plenty of snickering this week about the Tribune Co.‘s decision to file for bankruptcy protection. Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times, which in recent years has seen its staff cut even more than its circulation and advertising.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich
The once mighty Times has managed to give almost everyone in Los Angeles a reason to hate it, as it cycled through editors and publishers and one staff reduction after another. You don’t have to be a youthful new media type to brag about canceling your subscription to the Times, or how you get your news online, or how what used to take half a Sunday to read now takes only a half-hour.

Similar snickers, albeit perhaps quieter ones, followed the news that the cash-strapped New York Times was taking out a mortgage to make ends meet. Who needs these dinosaurs?

The answer is: everyone who cares about politics or government or the arts or culture. They do two things that almost no one else does: report and edit.

I get my news online, too. At any time of the day or night, I cruise, checking out what’s happening, what’s new. I rarely sit down and read a newspaper anymore, not in the old-fashioned way that I used to.

But most of the Web sites I frequent don’t report news themselves. And they don’t edit the dispatches of those who do. They aggregate and collect the stories that other people — most of them newspaper reporters — write. They reprint, recite and regurgitate the news, but they don’t report it.

There are, of course, the millions of “blogs” out there. Most of them are full of people’s opinions about the news. Nothing wrong with that, as I should be the first to say. But the opinions that interest me most are the ones that are based on something more than the automatic jerk of one knee or the other. The best columnists are the ones who know something about something, who are either reporters themselves or pay careful attention to the work of others who are.

As for blogs that actually report the news, the short answer is that they are few and far between. The ones that do, and do it well, depend on someone not so different from a newspaper reporter to go out and dig facts, and someone not so different from a newspaper editor to review their material before it’s published. The Huffington Post started out as a collection of unpaid blogs and links to other media sources. It has since taken what it must have seen as the necessary step of hiring former reporters and editors, as has Josh Marshall‘s first-rate Talking Points Memo.

The truth, whether you want to admit it or not, is that what drives public discourse today is still the work of the nation’s top newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and, yes, even my much snickered about Los Angeles Times. If they can’t do their job, they won’t be the only ones who suffer. All of us who depend on their reporters and editors will suffer, and so will the public discourse about important issues.

Talking about the news is easy. Finding it, digging for it and separating what’s accurate from what’s not are laborious, time-consuming and often unrewarding tasks. Newspapers, even the best of them, make plenty of mistakes. I’ve been their target often enough to know that. But in this information age, we need them and the professional standards of reporting and editing to which they aspire, even if they don’t always meet them.

Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >