Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Much apocalyptic hay is being made of Michael Hirschorn's article in this month's Atlantic. (No, not the white-anxiety-bait article. That other one.)

Hirschorn claims, with typical hyperbole, that there's a nonzero chance the Grey Lady will be dead by May. I'll leave the dissection of that dire pronouncement to cooler heads than mine. But if you managed to wade through the gloom, Hirschorn makes another intriguing--and oddly hopeful--prediction: that journalism could be saved by severing itself from its dumber Siamese twin, Newsish Fluff.

Under the guise of "service," The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism's brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable.

Funding hard news with fluff is a time-honored strategy--done best and most inimitably by Vanity Fair, which is fond of wrapping lengthy investigative news pieces in the pearlescent hide of Scarlett Johansson. Is it possible that its day is done?

...Over the long run, a world in which journalism is no longer weighed down by the need to fold an omnibus news product into a larger lifestyle-tastic package might turn out to be one in which actual reportage could make the case for why it matters, and why it might even be worth paying for. The best journalists will survive, and eventually thrive.

Imagine. A future in which reporters would generate actual news. A day no Women would Do. And forty acres and a unicorn for every unemployed member of the IRE.

The prospect of reading the NYT of a morning without encountering Upper-Class Twits like these is indeed a heady one. But I suspect Hirschorn is drinking his own Kool-Aid. Who is it that's going to pay for the revival of real honest-to-God news again? Advertisers? *coughs* Internet news-readers? *spits coffee all over self* Hirschorn points out that HuffPo has raised a bunch of money. Yep. I think once did, too.

Bear in mind as well that this Received Wisdom is from the Atlantic, whose idea of a clever strategy for surviving the Great Magazine Die-Off is to just keep putting Barack Obama's shiny, hopey face on the cover.

(Then again, the Atlantic is still publishing, while its erstwhile associate, the all-fluff 02138, has kicked the bucket. Maybe there's hope after all.)


  1. At first I thought you were linking to *this* Michael Hirschorn article, which had Scherer and I doing our fair share of coffee-spitting awhile back.

    Probably the most infuriating thing I've read since THIS race-baiting piece by Sasha Frere-Jones.

    Perhaps we can start a spinoff website called "Indie Kids Do ___" ? Where we catalogue the articles generated by the cranky pseudo-literati of the magazine world, who seem to think that in critiquing our generation's habits they are somehow making valid points, not just doing what older adults have done in every generation (complained that Kids Today were worse than We Were, despite the fact that Kids Today are paying for their Social Security).

  2. Hirschorn's what, in his mid-forties? So at least when he talks about Gen X, he's talking about himself. I didn't hate that one so much, though I can't believe he got through it without using the word "twee."

    Sasha Frere-Jones is another matter. He deserves his own stalker blog.

  3. We were just annoyed that he took a mixed bag of unrelated trends and tried to a) tie them all together under one arbitrary word and b) to criticize them unnecessarily. Where WomenDo pieces are condescendingly encouraging (oh, look at those girls, trying to seek equality by doing things the mens do, aren't they cute?), indie kids do pieces seem to be almost uniformly critical (oh look at those indie kids, wearing clothing and listening to music, who the hell do they think they are?)

  4. Finally, a chance to name a blog "A Twee Does in Brooklyn!" (Sorry Marty.)

  5. Making fun of indie kids is like making crack-and-hooker jokes about Marion Barry--now matter how predictable it gets, it never really gets old.

    Also, while the Frere-Jones article was annoying, it does at least converge on what no one wants to admit, but everyone knows is true, that "Neon Bible" was a classic sophomore-slump clusterfuck of an album.

  6. You sick bastards care more about your skinny pants than the End of Journalism.

  7. No no no, silly. We care about our skinny pants AND the End of Journalism.