A couple of weeks ago news broke (if you can call it news) that Bismarck Tribune editor John Irby was quitting. Today in a rambling, complaining column Irby reveals why. It’s because of bloggers and commenters.
“I am retiring because I am tired of being the whipping boy, by one and all,” writes Irby. “My skin has thinned. Life is too short to put up with all the noise.” But I wonder if the real reason for Irby’s retirement is revealed by this paragraph coming just before those statements:
There are no absolute First Amendment or freedom of speech protections for people making online comments. But I will never be able to convince those who disagree, so how about trying to digest this: The old days have passed. Editors are not in charge of, or responsible for, everything.
Irby is indeed correct that the times have changed. Newspaper editors (along with television and radio producers) are no longer in charge of the news cycle. Now everybody has a say. Anyone can publish on the internet to a potential audience in the millions, and that drives old-media types crazy.
They complain about it, under the guise of grousing about coarsening debate and uncivil discourse, but I don’t think that’s it. Politics, and journalism in general, has always been a nasty business filled with hyperbole, aspersions and recriminations. Old media types would like to pretend that invective and agenda-driven reporting are inventions of the media, but anyone familiar with the history of journalism knows that this is hardly the case. The medium changes, the content really doesn’t.
Rather, I think Irby’s problem is the control. Where once reporters and editors could kill stories they didn’t like, and smother inconvenient letters to the editor, now readers can simply go around them to blogs and social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. The media world is more competitive. I think we, the consumers of news and information, are the better for it but clearly the former gatekeepers in the old media disagree.
If Irby can’t hack it in this brave new world of journalism, then he’s right to seek retirement or another career.