Saturday, May 2, 2009

Former Editor Tim McGuire should follow his own advice to media critics

Tim McGuire should consider following his own advice to media critics. Point No. 2 in his post on media criticism is good advice for any opinion writer: “Keep the focus of your criticism narrow and manageable. Words like “always” and “never” cheapen most arguments. Those words tend to make you seem silly and painfully uninformed. Allow wiggle room.”

So what does he do in his own piece? He does exactly what he complains bugs him about today’s media critics. He says, “I have found it mighty maddening lately that everybody who talks about newspapers, media and the future of said media is so damned certain about just about everything.”

Really, Tim? “Everybody?” Come on. Taking this approach makes him sound like a thin-skinned journalist flinching at the beating the profession he loves is taking from many in the new rough and tumble environment of the Internet. I can understand why he might think that of Michael Wolff or Jeff Jarvis. But how about David Carr or Howard Kurtz, Jack Shafer or Alan Mutter?

I, too, am one who promotes the value of civil conversation. I started a web site for the E.W. Scripps Co.,, dedicated to that idea in the areas of culture, politics and religion. (By the way, it failed.) And I think McGuire makes some excellent suggestions. But frankly, in the end, I don’t think journalists come off well telling others how to criticize us. There have to be times when a blunt instrument is applied. Sometimes we deserve just that. Take the Los Angeles Times and the Staples arena section. Or the Chicago Tribune and its test-marketing of stories. Or in the case of my former paper, the Rocky Mountain News, when we got lashed from twittering from the funeral of a child. If editors don’t like it, they can fight back. They should. And I did.

Don't get me wrong. I agree in general with McGuire’s remarks applied to critical writing. But doesn’t it strike anybody else as odd that a journalist whose work is protected by the First Amendment is arguing that it would be better if people didn’t use all the space afforded them under the same guarantee of freedoms?

McGuire’s conclusion seems more directed at making the lives of the subjects of criticism easier and more pleasant – who cares? – than in encouraging a robust and incisive dialogue.

“I simply offer the possibility that civil criticism and constructive ideas will make improving the media a more pleasant and a more satisfying intellectual undertaking,” he writes.

For whom? It seems to me that the critics are having a ball. It’s the journalists who aren’t enjoying themselves. How many people, other than them, care?


  1. John,

    Well said.

    Let's also examine what is being criticized. In my case, it's not newspapers but newspapers' strategies - not doing enough to transform themselves for the realities of this new age.

    I criticize myself, both because I was a newspaper online exec and didn't do enough and because I now see that I didn't raise enough alarms. I get criticized for raising alarms too loudly. But I should be criticized for the opposite: not being loud enough.

    Should I and others I agree with be criticized for "being so damned certain"? Well, perhaps. But I'd say that the internet and its impact on newspapers was a certainty and the results of not acting also proved to be a certainty. I'm certain that paper is a model that will not grow or come back.

    What I'm not certain about, of course, is what comes in its place. No one can be certain about that. But I am doing what I can to find certainty, running a project in new business models for news at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism, where I teach, and working with startups and news companies. Certainty will come only from experimentation and success and failure.

    You're most right in your primary point: It won't come from complaining about critics.

  2. Thanks, Jeff.

    I think what's problematic is treating the newspaper industry as monolithic. There's no question that the industry for the most part has been slow in its response to the possibilities of new media. But I was encouraged just yesterday by a guest post on newsosaur about a hyperlocal site in Maine. What they're doing is suggestive of a new model, and it includes print. But it's not what anybody associated with a metropolitan or even mid-size newspaper operation is used to and it may not be what they hope journalism would be. To me, though, it's exciting.

  3. I have read the article which says about the one nature to mold the situation and about the media critics.I agree with the point that what's problematic is treating the newspaper industry as monolithic.They are giving information at anonymous cost without fully proof.I want to highlight some facts with former editor and their critics level position.


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