We're happy with what we read in the paper until we're reading about something we know really well. Then, too often, with all but the very sharpest and most conscientious reporters, we see all the small errors, distortions, omissions and problems that are daily journalism's epidemic affliction. [...]
Until recently, each reader who saw the holes in the occasional story he knew well was, in essence, an island; and most of those readers rested in some confidence that, even though that occasional story was problematic, the rest of the paper was, really, pretty good. Only now, the Net—and in particular the explosion of blogs, with their outpouring of expertise in so many fields—has connected those islands, bringing into view entire continents of inadequate, hole-ridden coverage. The lawyer blogs are poking holes in the legal coverage, while the tech blogs are poking holes in the tech coverage, the librarian blogs are poking holes in the library coverage—and the political blogs, of course, are ripping apart the political coverage in a grand tug of war from the left and the right. Within a very short time we've gone from seeing the newspaper as a product that occasionally fails to live up to its own standards to viewing it as one that has a structural inability to get most things right. [...]
As a profession, journalism has a choice: It can persist in a defensive, circle-the-wagons stance, pretending that nothing has changed. (The public has spontaneously and inexplicably decided to withdraw its trust from journalists! How strange! Let's wring our hands and wait for the madness to pass.) Or it can accept the presence of millions of teeming critical voices as a challenge to shape up and do a better job.
So far, things don't seem to be moving in that direction in this city. There is a proliferation of free daily papers that essentially repackage wire service stories, and the old-school newspapers have fewer staff doing fewer hard news stories than they used to.