OFF THE GRID

Why the Media Is Taking So Long to Die

Oct 30, 09 | 9:21 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I participated the other night in an oddly formal, anglophilic, Oxford-style, for-and-against-the-proposition debate on the topic of (you guessed it) the mainstream media. I was on the side arguing (you guessed again) that it should be buried as fast as possible.

My side, with radio host John Hockenberry and Politico founder Jim VandeHei, resoundingly lost.

This seemed surprising, if not inconceivable, because mainstream media is being buried by the stampede of Americans who’ve deserted it without a second thought, who you think would have voted for us.

But the audience for this debate, which will be (or perhaps has been already) aired on NPR and on Bloomberg television, was comprised of the last living readers of and believers in old media. Our cause was perhaps not helped when I began the evening by looking out over the crowd, and observing, with what I thought was some hilarity, that everybody was very old.

The team on the other side of the proposition, defending the value and purpose of mainstream media—David Carr, a nemesis of mine from the New York Times, Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editrix and benefactress of the Nation magazine, and Phil Bronstein, who has something to do with the San Francisco Chronicle (but who is best known for having once been married to Sharon Stone, which was the last moment of glamour in the newspaper business)—were a maudlin and sentimental bunch.

It was Carr, my nemesis, who made their central argument: While the mainstream media might be dying, it was unseemly to be dancing on its grave, especially with our apparent glee. The media—by which Carr essentially means the New York Times (and a little bit the Washington Post)—ought to be respected for its past services to America (and as well for employing Carr and rescuing him from his crack habit).

The audience, and, perhaps, most of media-centric Manhattan, concurred. Why does the mainstream media, which has employed so many of us so well and supported our middle-brow liberal sensibilities, have to go away? Can’t we hold on to it a while longer, they seemed to be plaintively asking.

I believe that is the attitude and the bias that has made the New York Times such an irrelevant and dreary read, and that stands in the way of inventing a new and profitable media business.

But that is not my point. My point, which I was finding elusive, was made for me yesterday when I picked up a recent column in the Spectator by the British writer Rod Liddle, who, next to me, is the best columnist in the English language. His column, which begins with a description of newspaper and magazine columnists—“smug, not terribly bright, usually cowardly, lazy, always self-obsessed, self-important and narcissistic…overflowing with foaming vomit”—was entitled: "Dancing on Graves Is What Journalists Do."

Or should do. It’s our job to cut to the chase. It’s actually the sweetest part of doing what we do (or used to be able to do). But instead, so many of journalists with jobs—the fewer and fewer who continue to have jobs—have become the last boosters, the dedicated defenders, the aging grandees of our dying way of life. When it comes to the media itself, to seeing it for what it is, or isn’t any more, for outliving it and moving on, we should do our jobs.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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