That’s right, y’all, 40 years ago today Nixon’s bumbling henchmen broke into the Watergate Hotel, setting off our two-year long national nightmare. It’s mind-boggling to think how easily this whole event could have been swept under the rug if not for the single-minded tenacity of journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and the support they had of a well-funded national newspaper, who paid them an actual salary. Imagine that.
Everyone in the journalism field today is decrying the internet’s dumbing down and cheapening of top-quality investigative reporting. Newspapers are slashing staff and cutting back on their print space. I have no qualms with the latter but I’m very disturbed by the former. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but it seems like in the early 2000s, every major print publication rushed to put free content up on the internet and claimed that no one would pay for online subscriptions. This is coming back now to haunt all of us, as quality investigative journalism is shrinking fast and the infinite number of crappy ads assaults us daily to a mind-numbing degree.
As a jackass blogger myself, I’m not going to tout the blogging phenomenon because I’m not delusional enough to think it can be used as anything more than a street corner megaphone. Unless you’re some kind of trust funder who can devote your life to unpaid work hunting down leads and interviewing sources (and really, what trust funder would do that?), all a blogger can really do is regurgitate the work of real, paid, professional reporters and add his or her own bit personal spin and jackass commentary. Ha ha ha, aren’t we clever? The rage that reporters feel towards bloggers is palpable and understandable. How many Watergates have quietly slipped past us since circa 2000? Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but when no one is paid to do professional, quality investigative reports, it just doesn’t get done. Could a blogger today bring down a corrupt president? Well, maybe a creepy congressman with a Weiner pic fetish, but that was more his own technological idiocy than anything.
While the internet has made our lives more easy and convenient in so many ways, it’s time to acknowledge that we can not replace quality and professionalism in many important fields, particularly the arts and journalism. It’s nice that every joe schmoe can record his mediocre cover of a rock song and share it on youtube, but that’s not going to replace a genius songwriter who has the time and space to write that genius song because he is paid to do it. Okay, maybe that’s not a good analogy since most genius songs are written by semi-unemployed people on drugs. But if we keep following down this path where all creative pursuits are nothing but dilettante hobbies, our society is going to seriously suffer in the end.
What are you willing to pay for? I’ll tell you what I shell out for. I subscribe to the online New York Times, Bitch Magazine and Bust Magazine, as well as professional journals in my day job field that come with my sporadic memberships to professional organizations. I buy a lot of books; most of those are used but I’m willing to shell out for an author I admire, especially at a book reading. I love to buy books and magazine subscriptions as presents for my family. I know I sound self-righteous and I’m not trying to shame anyone who can’t afford to pay for newspapers and magazines. If you can’t pay for subscriptions out-of-pocket, remember that your tax dollars are going towards your local library’s subscriptions and you can always read them there or through their online portals, knowing that you have contributed towards paying for them. And every time you click on a news website that has an ad that you waste a second of your life rolling your assaulted eyes over, it’s payment. An icky payment, but a payment nonetheless.
In honor of the Watergate anniversary today I’m subscribing to the online New Republic and donating to Pro Publica, a truly amazing organization. I’m also shelling out for the ad-free Kindle version of the Washington Post on Kindle. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think young people are starting to realize that consuming free, low-quality, regurgitated crap on the internet that only throws ads in your face (and tracks every move you make online, violating your privacy) leaves you with a bad taste in your brain. We get what we pay for.