Last night was the Molly Dinner for the Texas Observer. I got all decked out, including pink finger and toenails to match my pink canes, and my pink blouse, and went down to the Four Seasons in Austin. Had wonderful conversations, heard horrible tales of unemployed journalists, barely tolerated Ellen Goodman’s screed against new media, and had a ball! Food was so-so, but when we had tornado watches and warnings at the end, I wound up in the lobby talking with the state senators on the education committees, and the highlight of the evening was chatting with Lou Dubose and his wife. Wow!
Interestingly, mine was the only laptop in sight, and I think am the one attendee there who even attempted to live-blog the event. I sat next to much of the Observer staff, and none of them were taking notes of any kind. Lots of journalists in attendance, but I didn’t even see note-pads. Very odd, considering how Netroots Nation last year and SxSW this year were wall-to-wall laptops.
The Molly Awards are given in memory of the wonderful Molly Ivins, one of the smartest and funniest Texans ever, a print journalist and columnist who did "get it" about the reasons why the mainstream media began its decline. She said the following in a 2004 interview:
BuzzFlash: You mention in your introduction that journalism is in a ‘parlous state.’ Tell me what you think is wrong with journalism in general?
Molly Ivins: I am a little grumpy about journalism but I think there is reason for hope. I think we are at the point where the concentration of ownership is really visibly starting to affect the quality of journalism. I know it’s been this way for a while but the only thing new is the degree. And I think it is really starting to tell. It’s not like that when you get bought by some major media corporation. I mean my last paper was sold three times while I worked for it.
I’m not saying that anybody from corporate headquarters calls and says, "Oh, Molly Ivins can’t criticize George W. Bush." No one at that level knows or cares about journalism and what is being said. What’s being done is some bean-counter trains their telescope on their little property down in Texas and says, "Ah! My property down in Texas is not making as much as our property in Kansas City of a similar size. We’ll have to call Texas and tell them to get their quarterly profit margin up."
And ultimately there are only two ways you can squeeze more money out of a newspaper when there is a profit squeeze, as there always is. An old editor of mine used to say that the profits are down from obscene to excessive.
You can squeeze the news hole and literally have less room in the paper for news or you can squeeze the news gathering staff and have less people out there gathering news.
I think the net result is that there is just not as much information in the paper anymore.
BuzzFlash: On a different track, are you familiar with blogs?
Molly Ivins: Yes, and that is where I am optimistic. I think the Internet can potentially have an amazingly positive effect in both journalism and politics.
(Thanks Pellora2 for finding and posting that interview last night.)
None of last night’s speakers get it. Because the Observer and some investigative reporters and columnists are still actually practicing journalism, they have not noticed how many of their colleagues in the industry have become stenographers and abdicated their positions as the fourth estate.