Friday, February 26, 2010

Yesterday's Fish Wrap Today

   We just read Nicholas Lemann's Dec. 7, 2009 New Yorker review of the autobiographical My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times, by former London Sunday Times editor Harold Evans. (Yes, Dec. 7. First of All is catching up on its reading. So sue us.) 
   The piece contains a startling passage sure to jolt the deadened nerve-ends of any seasoned journalist. Contextualizing Evans' early-1970s ascension to the Sunday Times editor's chair and his encouragement of assiduous investigative journalism, Lemann writes: 

   All this was happening at roughly the same time as Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and the early glories of magazine "new journalism" in the United States. Evans and the people he worked with were major contributors to a super-charged new conception of what journalism could be: at once powerful and devoted to the powerless, literary and intellectual, glamorous and dutiful, quasi-governmental in its status but in perpetual opposition to government. "No intelligence system, no bureaucracy, can offer the information provided by free competitive reporting," Evans exclaims at one point [in the book]. 

   We put down the magazine and wiped a (glycerine crocodile) tear from our eye. So there was, after all, a reason that tons of us entered journalism in the mid- to late-seventies. (Four words: All The President's Men.) 
   Well, whatever. Things change. As Lemann later rightly points out, "One can think of 'My Paper Chase' as a potent exercise in escapist nostalgia - as an intoxicant that's bound to produce, at least in journalists, the irresistible high of revisiting the halcyon era of the mainstream media." He adds, "Surely, if [Evans] were young today, he would be operating in the digital world, and surely that world is still full of nascent Harold Evanses, as determined to rise as he was." 
   Four words: Drudge Report Huffington Post

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