Media's sacred trust is sadly not a sacred trust fund

Don't I have obligations as a journalist beyond crass money grasping? Haven't I been invested with a sacred trust that shouldn't be held hostage to profit? Indeed I have: to report stories that are factually correct and more importantly, to the best of my knowledge and ability, fundamentally true. But I don't think that I have a duty to lose vast sums of money doing so--I already took quite a hefty paycut when I devoted my MBA to journalism. I gave, as they say, at the office. So did everyone else who took their college degree into journalism, from editors on down. Nor do newspaper owners exactly mint money.

But this is actually sort of besides the point that I was trying to make when I said that newspapers can't print stories readers don't want to read. Both my conservative and my liberal commenters have gotten bogged down in an argument about whether it is possible to make a profit selling stories of the kind Glenn Greenwald desires. I doubt it is on mass scale, but it sort of doesn't matter.

The object in writing these stories is presumably to get people to read them, not merely to acquire the moral satisfaction of a job well done. You cannot get people to read them if they do not acquire your paper. If you fill the paper with stories they do not want to read, they will not take your paper even if it is free. Just ask the people shoving gratis dailies at harassed commuters in subway stations.

You can slip stories that people do not particularly care to read in among a lot of stories that they do want to read. Editors do this all the time, which is how they win pulitzers; those series are generally things that very few people want to read, but impress other editors. Editors also like important stories about topics of vital national interest, which is why they run stories about things like John Yoo. In a general daily that is not owned by Murdochs, Sulzbergers, or Grahams, those stories are already getting quite a hefty readership subsidy from Barack Obama's bowling prowess and the parrot who phoned 911 during a house fire.

Writing more stories will not bring in the many, many subscribers who aren't reading the ones you've already printed. It may chase away casual readers who were willing to peruse one or two, but not eight in a month. (It will also chase those readers away from other vital topics, like mark-to-market accounting).

In short, Glenn Greenwald wants major media outlets to use more of their real estate to push the stories he wants. He claims that this is possible because in fact, readers want to read those stories, only the media is too lazy to print them. I aver that this is weapons-grade poppycock; media outlets have a very good idea of what people read, and if there were vast unmet demand for such stories, editors would have met it.