A reader writes:
You wrote, "It would allow one to read, say Ezra Klein, without having to endure the notion of helping the Washington Post." Quite true. It also might have spared us the noticeable degradation in the quality of Ezra's thinking that has occurred since he's been at the Post. I still find him insightful, but his bad tendencies (excessive reverence for hacks who offer him access, tendency towards a fixation on inside baseball) have been painfully augmented by walking in the doors of that building, to the point that he's no longer a daily read for me.
The point of this isn't to rag on Ezra - rather, it what got me thinking about the next point. While we as readers may not experience journalistic institutions as a coherent platform, their writers generally do experience them as a cohesive culture.
I've been working in my current gig at a small think-tanky operation for just over a year, and that's been more than enough time for my way of thinking about policy problems to be shaped by our native approach. I can only assume that something similar is true of journalists. This can be good or bad; you've got places that seem to be good at fostering good writing, reporting, and thinking habits in young writers - The American Prospect springs to mind - to places that assimilate their writers into a sloppy, sensationalistic, mindlessly establishmentarian, or otherwise problematic writing culture. The Post is certainly the most obvious example of the latter.
Ideally, you would hope that a world of loosely bound ad-selling groups composed of independent writers would be one where good writers still work in the first kind of institution early in their career, picking up the lessons that you can learn from that kind of environment, but then maintain a greater independence of perspective and style later by remaining actually independent.
On the other hand, it might be a world where people skip the first stage entirely and try to strike out as an independent brand right from the start. I don't know whether a world where both good writer-training institutions and bad writer-ruining institutions are weakened is better or worse than what we have now. I'd imagine that an actual journalist might have a clearer guess.
I think, given the evaporation of most of those good training institutions, the first stage will quickly be skipped. Think of two very different but equally successful bloggers who skipped it: Nate Silver and Glenn Greenwald. Then think of a blogger who has morphed in tone, style and politics as he has moved from one instituition to another: Dave Weigel. Would Nate be Nate if he had been put through the woodchipper of NYT culture for a decade? Nah. Is there a danger of his becoming more repectable and therefore more boring if he unconsciously begins to model the tone of his new benefactors? Absolutely.
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