Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Inefficient like Beethoven

Today's food for thought, from Craig LaMay's "Exporting press freedom: Economic and editorial dilemmas in international media assistance" (2007, p. 5):

News is not like automobiles, computers, or blue jeans, businesses in which many fewer workers can now produce more product in less time than they could ten, twenty, or a hundred years ago. Put another way, good journalism is like good music, and is inefficient in the same way. Two hundred years ago, for example, it took four musicians to play Beethoven's String Quartet, Opus 18, No. 4, and it took them about twenty minutes to play. Today the same piece still requires four people and twenty minutes to play.

There are some products, and news is one of them, where productivity remains flat or nearly so, notwithstanding the addition of new technologies or other innovations to the production line. Quality journalism -- the kind that involves reporters who investigate and report, editors who edit and rewrite -- works very much the same way. Good journalism is a hand-made product, and the only way to wring inefficiencies out of it is, unfortunately, to eliminate reporters or avoid serious newsgathering, neither of which is apt to improve democracy's chances.


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