The Middlebury Campus

I Cover the Waterfront: On Original Reporting

By WILL DIGRAVIO

There’s this scene in “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” a 2011 documentary film about the paper of record, that I can’t stop thinking about.

It features David Carr, The Times’ media columnist who became the paper’s de facto spokesman before his death in 2015. In the scene, Carr debates the future of news with Michael Wolff, the founder of the news aggregation blog Newser.

Wolff succumbs to hyperbole in the course of their exchange, going so far as to declare that traditional news outlets who engage in original reporting are dead. Rebuking his opponent’s ridiculous claim is too easy for Carr. With a grin on his face, he holds up a printout of Newser’s front page and tells the audience that the blog is, in fact, a good looking website.

“But I wonder if Michael has really thought through ‘get rid of mainstream media content,’” Carr says. Again, he holds up a printout of the blog’s homepage, this time with every story containing information originally reported by “mainstream” outlets cut out with a pair of scissors. “Go ahead,” he says, peering through a piece of paper that looks like Swiss cheese.

I think of this scene often because I keep encountering folks who either don’t know or don’t appreciate the value of original reporting.

For example, last month a friend asked me why people continue to subscribe to The Times when blogs like Vox and Slate post concise content online for free.

I was shocked.

Did he not understand that those websites, while important and worth reading, relied heavily on the reportage of papers like The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times et al? Could he not see that without reporters churning out copy and immersing themselves in their respective beats, most digital and television outlets would not exist?

The short answer: no, he did not. And I don’t blame him. If I wasn’t pursuing a career in journalism, I probably wouldn’t know or care either.

And it’s not just political news that’s the problem. The other day, a Facebook friend of mine shared a fake article that said Charles Manson had been granted parole. I don’t fault him for the mistake, the phony blog was well-designed and looked like a legitimate news organization. Perhaps we should update an old adage: Don’t judge a website by its homepage.

This is a problem, and as we continue to rely on the internet for, well, everything, we must take media literacy seriously to ensure that subsequent generations are not illiterate. The medium may be changing, but news isn’t going anywhere.

Every night, I scroll through Twitter in awe  watching The Times and The Post battle to break news about the president and his men and women. As a young journalist, with a compulsion to join the print media, I can’t help but wonder if this is what it was like growing up in the heyday of newspapers. It reaffirms my belief that tough and true reporting will always prevail.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I came across a tweet by Pete Hegseth, a Trump supporter and guest host on “Fox & Friends,” a morning program on Fox News. His tweet read, “Spilled my coffee this morning on [Fox & Friends]. Finally found good use for failing [New York Times]. #NotFakeNews,” and included a picture of a coffee-stained Times acting as a coaster.

When I saw his tweet, I laughed because it proved David Carr’s words true. Folks can trash The Times all they want, but they’ll still read it. Because without it, blogs and opinion TV shows like “Fox & Friends” will have nothing to broadcast or discuss. It truly is the media kingdom with all the power.

So, will traditional media fail while fake news prevails? To paraphrase my hero Carr: hell no.

Note: A version of this column first appeared in the Addison Independent. It has been reprinted here because it is the first in a series about the future of traditional and print media.

1 Comment

One Response to “I Cover the Waterfront: On Original Reporting”

  1. Zak F. on September 21st, 2017 10:57 pm

    Awesome, will. Thanks so much for sharing this important message!

    [Reply]