The Sciences

And Now for a Little Pessimism

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 6, 2010 6:09 PM


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The Reinventing Media session at Techonomy this morning had a somewhat different tone than many of the others here: It was tinged with sadness. There is a lot of hurt in the media world today, a lot of pain. And…the Internet did it. The traditional print media industry has been decimated by the growth of the web, which has undermined the business models of newspapers and magazines. And this is surely no unmitigated good, despite the massive amounts of information now freely available—because it means that despite the many advantages of online content, quality and professionalism often suffer. As Scientific American VP and Publisher Bruce Brandfon put it at today's session, “Information wants to be free, but it needs to be very expensive.” Otherwise, the best reporting, the best analyses, the journalistic endeavors that maintain the highest standards, may not be able to compete with less valuable but more sensationalized content. Information, Brandfon continued, “needs curators.” You can’t make it a full democracy, or you run the risk of being overwhelmed with misinformation and lowest-common-denominator fare. To be sure, there are some major media innovators out there who have found ways to make it work in this upended landscape. People like Paul Steiger, editor in chief of Pro Publica, an online investigative reporting outlet that has managed to not only fund itself and thrive but break some very big stories—like this one about the state of California hiring nurses who’d already been sanctioned in other states. Pro Publica has alreadywon a Pulitzer prize for its work, partners regularly with traditional media organizations for its investigations, and has a healthy operating budget of more than $ 10 million per year. And yet Steiger himself recognized the woes of the media on...

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