Mama Google’s nipples

I’ve just read a piece that raises whining to an art form, Neil Henry’s “The Decline of News” from the San Francisco Chronicle. This is one of those “save the institution” pieces that actually suggests that Google has some responsible-corporate-citizen-duty to support traditional journalism. Can you imagine? A subsidy from Mama Google?

Henry is a journalism professor from Berkeley, and here are a few things he “sees:”

I see a world where the craft of reporting the news fairly and independently is very much endangered; and with it a society increasingly fractured, less informed by fact and more susceptible to political and marketing propaganda, cant and bias.

I see a world in which the pursuit of truth in service of the public interest is declining as a cultural value in our society amid this technological tumult; a world where professional journalism, practiced according to widely accepted ethical values, is a rapidly diminishing feature in our expanding news and information systems, as we escape to the Web to experience the latest “new” thing.

I see a world where corporations such as Google and Yahoo continue to enrich themselves with little returning to journalistic enterprises, all this ultimately at the expense of legions of professional reporters across America, now out of work because their employers in “old” media could not afford to pay them.

I see a guy completely sold on the idea that journalism began with the era of Walter Lippmann’s elitist views. I see a man so completely convinced of the rightness of his calling that it’s impossible to argue the “truth” he believes he represents. I see a representation of the illusion that the press is a privileged and protected class in America, a group licensed not by the government, but by the people they claim to represent.

My heart goes out to people who lose their jobs (been there, done that), but the sky is NOT falling, folks. Darwin would describe this as the evolution of a species. The stock market would call it a “correction.” It’s really just the culture deciding that it’s time to move on.

The world that Henry “sees” collapsing is the professional journalists’ Nirvana, a place where heroism and sacrifice are pitted against the villains of power. But power is exactly what Henry’s worldview is all about, and the disruptions tearing apart this world are moving that power to everyday people. The institution of the press may be on today’s front lines, but the future will not be kind to ANY institution whose lifeblood flows from the wellspring of protected knowledge.

Henry “sees” a society increasingly fractured, but can’t acknowledge that the fracturing began on his watch (nor understand his role therein). He believes we’ll be less informed by “fact,” whatever that might be. He “sees” people more susceptible to propaganda, cant and bias, but can’t acknowledge that the father of professional journalism wrote the book on all three.

The “pursuit of truth in service of the public interest?” Sorry, but this is not the mission of big media (anymore). This pursuit left us for the bottom line decades ago, and it’s what people are trying to get back.

And no critique of this missive would be complete without acknowledging that Henry himself has a fairly significant dog in this fight. His job is ultimately at stake as well.

The ridiculous notion of Google contributing to the very thing it is helping people overcome is — by a long shot, so far — the most Chamberlain-esque of all responses to the disruption of the personal media revolution. It’s tantamount to giving up without firing a shot when the right response is to attack Google’s mission at the point it is most vulnerable — the local level. This may not seem in the job description of the traditionalists, but that is precisely what’s changed the most.

My message to Professor Henry and his kind is this: Grow. A. Spine!

It’s not the lofty and elitist vision that needs protecting; it’s the revenue that sustained it in the first place. We’ve just not been creative in dealing with the real threat here, and to roll over and beg for a nipple at this point is, well, just plain sad.


  1. Henry’s editorial smacks of complaints about the demise of the buggy-whip industry.

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