“The Wire” creator and the death of journalism


At the risk of engaging in a little bit of hyperbole, “The Wire” is the best TV show in the history of the galaxy. Its creator, David Simon, was for not all that many years a journalist at the once-great Baltimore Sun, and it was his perspective as a reporter on the cops beat that gave us shows such as “Homicide” and, most notably, “The Wire,” which over its five seasons did more to capture the truth of the American city’s decline (in this case, Baltimore) than any newspaper series or non-fiction book ever has.

But although Simon long ago abandoned journalism for the “fleshpots” of Hollywood, as he calls it, his heart is still tethered to his old job. Yesterday he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the future of journalism, and his testimony is worth a read, assuming you’re American and care about the country’s future. (When you’re reading it, you might substitute “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” where he says “Baltimore Sun.” The comparisons are not clean ones but they are, to a degree, instructive.)

Some excerpts are below, which I’m aggregating, which Simon himself says really doesn’t serve much of a larger purpose. But anyway:

— “The Internet…does not deliver much first-generation reporting. Instead, it leeches that reporting from mainstream publications, whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth. Meanwhile, readers acquire news from the aggregators and abandon its point of origin — namely the newspapers themselves. In short, the parasite is slowly killing the host.”

— “The very phrase citizen journalist strikes my ear as nearly Orwellian. A neighbor who is a good listener and cares about people is a good neighbor; he is not in any sense a citizen social worker. Just as a neighbor with a garden hose and good intentions is not a citizen firefighter. To say so is a heedless insult to trained social workers and firefighters.”

— “My industry butchered itself and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered, free-market logic that has proved so disastrous for so many American industries. And the original sin of American newspapering lies, indeed, in going to Wall Street in the first place. When locally-based, family-owned newspapers like The Sun were consolidated into publicly-owned newspaper chains, an essential dynamic, an essential trust between journalism and the communities served by that journalism was betrayed.”

— “It costs money to do the finest kind of journalism. And how anyone can believe that the industry can fund that kind of expense by giving its product away online to aggregators and bloggers is an endless source of fascination to me.”