Don't blame the reader
William Langewiesche is profiled in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. Who knew he lived in Davis, Calif.?
Anyways, Langewiesche, now a writer for Vanity Fair, says something in the interview about writing that I think serves as an incisive critique of America's floundering regional newspapers:
"You have this precious, incredibly privileged thing, which is the reader's attention for a little while. And you can make the slightest misstep and the reader will put you down. People will say that the reader lives in a busy world. But that's not the reason why. The reason is that the writer blows it, and loses the reader's trust."
And so he inadvertently gets to the heart of the lie. Good journalism isn't dying because readers are too busy - they seem to have plenty of time to watch television and surf the net after all. However, a savvy newspaper owner interested in slashing expenses or changing the nature of his business might want journalists to think this busy world is passing them by.
And so the owner commits the "misstep" on purpose. He lets the writing languish - too little experience, too few editors - and then points to surveys that say readers are too distracted to want anything that will cost more money - more experienced reporters, more editors.
So how does a journalist struggle out of this tar pit of greed? Langewiesche's advice: "Write well."