The Wire and the Newspaper Industry

I would, of course, second Yglesias' observation that The Wire's lack of award-show recognition, this year and every year before it, represents a minor travesty. But since he brings the subject up, I think it's also worth observing that the show's much-criticized final season, and especially that season's newsroom plot, looks even worse - or at least even more out-of-touch - today than it did when the show aired six months ago. Since Simon decided that his big statement about the state of American journalism would be a score-settling retread of Shattered Glass, the newspaper industry's fortunes have gone from worse to awful, and the Baltimore Sun, in particular, has endured a truly punishing round of buyouts and layoffs; last week, the paper's managing editor resigned in order "to spend more time with his family," which strikes me as code for "he just couldn't take it anymore." I could go on and on about the Tragedy of the Sun or the larger Tragedy of American Newspapers in Middle-Sized Cities - yes, I'm a conservative who thinks the press often has a liberal bias, and yes, I don't think it's the end of the world if a more freewheeling and partisan style of journalism replaces the old model of studious and semi-spurious impartiality, but papers like the Sun aren't being replaced by less-liberal, more-balanced versions of themselves, or by competing, hard-charging papers with more explicitly partisan slants; they're being replaced by crap or by nothing at all, and it's a damn shame - but as you can probably tell I'm way too close to the subject (wife worked at the Sun, friends work at the Sun, friends work in other newspapers, etc) to be anything save a tedious bore on the subject. Suffice to say that I think that David Simon, former newsman and great truthtelling prophet of the decline of the American Empire, could have done just a little better by the failing, flailing industry he supposedly loves than a long narrative arc about how the biggest problem facing journalism is venal, Pulitzer-obsessed editors who coddle fabulist reporters.

Oh, I know, I know - the fabulism really happened (well, some version of it did, at least) when Simon was at the Sun, and besides the real story, the one all the haters missed, wasn't the fabulism; it was the meta-story about how the Sun never covered the real story of what was going on in Baltimore! And the economic crisis was in the season, somewhere - there were buyouts and anxieties, and the fabulist wouldn't have been promoted, probably, without the older, better reporters giving way, etc. etc. But look, the bottom line is this: At a moment of maximum crisis for American newspapers, with daily paper after daily paper collapsing into mediocrity under the pressure of collapsing revenues, David Simon decided to use his HBO soapbox to rail against ... the newspaper industry's obsession with Pulitzer-bait stories. It's the equivalent of doing an entire season about the plight of the American inner city in which the drug war was a presence, but way in the background, and the story focused primarily on the evils of, I don't know, check-cashing services or something.