I hope you’ll forgive the delay. It’s taken me a few days to process the full extent of the stupidity contained in this post by Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, in which he writes about his shock at finding a copy of the Wall Street Journal outside his hotel room door. “Look What I Found Outside My Hotel Door In The Morning — Yesterday’s News!” he snarks…
I’m not against getting free stuff, so I probably would have picked the newspaper up and taken it to breakfast if I hadn’t been in a hurry.
Alas, I was in a hurry.
So I stepped over it, refreshed the news on my phone, and headed for the elevators.
Somewhere in there, I also (briefly) contemplated the immense amount of work and money that had gone into producing and delivering that newspaper to me. The news-gathering, the writing, the editing, the laying-out, the printing, the truck delivery, the hotel employee who had to push carts around the hotel for hours in the dead of night… And that doesn’t even include the cost of growing, cutting, and pulping trees, making paper and ink, and burning coal and oil for power and electricity to run those gigantic machines. I at least hope that no advertisers paid the newspaper to reach me!
“!” indeed. And this just weeks after Henry discovered a hair on his airplane seat, prompting a 32-page slideshow.
Ok, let’s have a crack at this…
Stupidity No. 1: Blodget makes the schoolboy error of assuming that because he’s not interested in something, there’s no point in it existing. Let’s try rewording that paragraph…
I also (briefly) contemplated the immense amount of work and money that had gone into producing and delivering those bananas on the breakfast buffet. The air freight, the trucks, the fruit store, the chef to peel and chop them into little pieces… And that doesn’t even include the cost of growing the bananas, the fertilizer manufacturers, the pickers, the company that makes the little stickers on the banana peel. And for what? I don’t even like bananas! I, at least, hope that the hotel didn’t pay money for those bananas I don’t even eat!
Henry: the hotel doesn’t give a fuck whether you like bananas, or newspapers*. What matters is that lots of people do like bananas and newspapers, and the business benefits of providing them are greater than the costs. That’s the same reasons the Journal keeps printing newspapers: the overall benefits of printing newspapers still outweigh the costs. You do run a site called “Business Insider,” right?
Okay. Stupidity No. 2: Any comment that Henry Blodget (pictured top left, from the WSJ) makes on the state or value of the news business has to be considered in the context of Business Insider. That’s the site Blodget has in mind when he talks about having his finger stuck in “the electrical socket of real-time digital news delivery.” And that’s the site he was likely refreshing on his phone.
It’s telling, in that context, that Blodget includes “news-gatherers” and “editors” in his list of wasteful affectations at the Journal. It’s little wonder D’oh Henry can’t comprehend the value of professional news-gatherers, editors, layers-out, and the rest, when all he wants to know is “Why Do Deople Hate Jews?” illustrated with a picture of Natalie Portman grabbed off Google Images. It’s like expecting Hamburglar to understand a soufflé. And yet… a search for “WSJ”on Business Insider returns 6,537 results for stories that found their genesis in those wasteful pages. (A search for “Wall Street Journal” brings up 7,760.)
Stupidity No. 3: On Friday evening, the NSFWCORP team went to an industrial park in Downtown Las Vegas to watch the first issue of NSFWCORP Print roll off the presses. Watching half a dozen technicians tweaking hundreds of variables to ensure exactly the right color separation, I took the time to reflect on all of the work that had led up to the moment where our digital files were converted to a print publication. Blodget is right about one thing: It’s a hell of a lot of effort to get something ready for print.
But that’s the point. The reason so much work goes into getting newspapers right is that they’re as close to permanent as any media we have. Once that ink is on paper, it’s staying there for a generation, maybe sixteen. A mistake on the Web can be deleted with a keystroke; for print you need to get your facts right, your phrasing near-perfect, your layout exact before you start the presses. And that’s the precise opposite of a bad thing. Each link in the chain between journalist and stack of paper outside the hotel room door demands greater care be taken to produce something that makes all that effort worthwhile. There’s a reason why “Dewey Defeats Truman” is still a remarkable event more than 60 years on.
By contrast, the Web — with its direct link between writer and reader — has given us the curse of iterative journalism. That is, the idea that a reporter can publish what he knows, or thinks he knows, the moment he thinks he knows it.
Iterative journalism is why Business Insider last week published a story by Julie Bort that hinged on Keith Rabois having been the COO of Foursquare. Rabois is, of course, the former COO of Square — a margin of error of plus/minus three Squares. Bort eventually corrected her error after commenters pointed it out, just like Blodget had to add no fewer than six notes and updates to his “Jews” post after readers cried foul. (Meanwhile another few thousand readers reminded themselves that, while Business Insider is great for quirky bullshit about millipedes, they should probably hold on to that Journal subscription for — yunno — news.)
A caveat. Yes, there are plenty of online publications that work hard to get the story right before hitting publish, and where iterative journalism is outlawed. (I’m contractually obliged to mention NSFWCORP and PandoDaily here. And AllThingsD for balance.) What’s interesting, though, is how many of the Web publications that strive to get it right first time are either allied to existing print publications or are lead by people who learned their craft in print.
As I’ve said a million times before: You don’t get to be Picasso until you’ve learned to paint a bowl of fruit. And you don’t get to comment on how stupid newspapers are if you’re so unfamiliar with them that you think their existence is, of itself, headline news.
(*It’s highly unlikely that any advertisers paid the Wall Street Journal to reach Henry Blodget. Everyone knows that to reach Henry Blodget, you need to throw your ad dollars at the Banned From Wall Street Journal.)