Is practicing the more rarefied forms of journalism a right or a privilege? I'd say a privilege, but the way some people talk about the evolution of The Wall Street Journal (NWS) since Rupert Murdoch bought it shows they take the other view.
Check out Scott Sherman's 5,000-worder in The Nation to see what I'm talking about. Although Sherman interviewed plenty of people who think the Journal is as good as it was before Dec. 2007, or even better, he still can't shake the nagging sense that a terrible injustice has been committed. "Murdoch has not corrupted the Journal," he concedes, grudgingly. But, just as damnably, "he has smothered it and made it ordinary."
Just what manner of smothering are we talking about? In brief, Murdoch has cut back somewhat, though not drastically, on long features; favored, among the features that remain, those that have some connection to the news of the day; instructed reporters to generate more scoops; and devoted more of the paper's space to news. More news in a newspaper? The fiend!
Obviously, if you want to cover more stories and get more scoops with the same number of reporters, something has to give. In this case, it was the Journal's "remarkable tradition of immersion journalism" -- the regime under which a reporter could go and spend two or three months burrowing into a potential page-one story without worry about daily deadlines.
Is it sad that Journal reporters can't stretch their wings like they used to? Sure. Great stories, important stories, won't get written because of it. But, folks? The newspaper industry is collapsing. Entire papers are going out of business. Thousands and thousands of journalists are out of work (remarkably few of them, it should be noted, because of Murdoch, who has avoided major layoffs at the Journal and the New York Post). Amid this backdrop, to bewail, as Sherman does, that "[t]here isn't much room for sparkling, poignant features about prison carpenters in today's Journal" is a little like bitching about how hard it is to get a reservation at Per Se during a famine.
Yet bitch they do. Just listen to Josh Prager, who recently took a buyout and left, though not without tossing a Molotov cocktail over his shoulder on the way out. He tells Sherman:
What was great about the Journal was that it allowed people to pursue their different abilities. I'm good at writing long feature stories. I'm horrible at breaking news. They didn't make me do that after a while. That's why the paper worked.
Note the utter sense of entitlement: The Journal worked because it catered to the unique needs of its employees. Only a newspaper isn't a Montessori school, is it? And the Journal only "worked' in the sense that anything that loses millions of dollars (or tens of millions, if the estimates I've heard recently are accurate) can be said to work. You can't blame people for feeling nostalgic for the world the old Journal inhabited, but it's a world that's never coming back, and that's one thing you can't blame on Rupert Murdoch.