The era of blog-chair journalism only grows more pronounced. The Washington Post essentially abandoned the rest of the nation this week, closing bureaus in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to concentrate its declining resources closer to home. Like a legion of other previously well-bureaued city dailies, The Chicago Tribune had likewise long ago given up the ghost on international and national coverage (I'm not sure they're covering Chicago anymore), relying on stringers, wire services and news syndicates to fill increasingly small editorial holes for national and global news. Nowadays everyone is attempting to gravy-train on the dubious express of user-generated content, which could be the coup de grace for a profession under siege by diminishing fiscal returns, stupendous self-inflicted wounds and gargantuan, ego-powered blunders (Here's to you Sam Zell and Conrad Black).
In a world of bloviating, rumor-mongering bloggers and haphazard, sometimes malicious iReporting by nonprofessionals is there any way for the casual news consumer to filter out the noise and manipulation and get something close to the truth of U.S. daily life anymore? (Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" is beginning to look like an improvement over current standards.) There have been some colossal problems within the profession in recent years (thank you, Judith Miller) and too many journalists have allowed themselves to be cowed into ineffectualness by the constant drumbeat of bias from the right, a contributor to the sorry performance of the industry during the "to war, to war, to war we're gonna go" prologue to the Iraq invasion. But I think overall, despite the calculatingly inflamed rhetoric of right-wing critics, most journalists (talking print here, not TV) actually do a decent job and provide a critical public service in fact-checking and synthesizing disparate events, pronouncements, studies and commentaries into something resembling a coherent narrative of reality. We're going to miss them when the Drudge-ification of the news business is complete, facts are opinions and no one is bothering to field reporters in not only the lonely places of the planet but even major metro locations of this nation.
Am I watching not only the passage of an era, but the end of a profession? Perhaps I am overly pessimistic. There are after all small shoots amid the decay. Take a gander at Voices of San Diego and Global Post; the Christian Science Monitor continues to do good work in its post-print form, and there's even reason to hope in Chicago's woe begotten mediascape. The new-born Chicago News Cooperative offers a vibrant and I hope successful adaptation to changing media realities. It's already marketing content to the NY Times, which may be tracking blood in the water near Michigan Avenue. Old timers will be forgiven for noting CNC's more than passing resemblance to the late lamented City News Bureau, now apparently retrieved from Chicago media's Jurassic era, dusted off and electrified on the internet. Good luck CNC. Just remember fellas: "If your mom says she loves you, check it out."