HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
April 17, 2009, noon

David Simon: Newspapers could emulate HBO and charge for content

David Simon is the curmudgeon and arch skeptic you’d hope to find in newsrooms everywhere. He took a buyout from The Baltimore Sun in 1995, having grown fed up with his newspaper’s management long before that was the industry standard.

Simon went on to a career in book writing and television, including NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO’s The Wire, my (and many others’) two favorite shows of all time. On Wednesday, I had the honor of meeting Simon when he spoke at the Nieman Foundation, and he graciously allowed me to whip out a Flip camera over lunch at The Kebab Factory. The footage is very rough, but for a guy whose work has championed truth over image, it seems kind of appropriate.

We talked about how to charge for news, whether news organizations could adopt HBO’s business model, why objectivity doesn’t preclude having a take, and whether The Wire is journalism. Consider this clip an appetizer — of Indian food — before Simon’s appearance tonight on Bill Moyers Journal. (As they say, check your local listings.) In a snippet from the show, he expands on the notion of truth in his work and explains why Dickensian journalism is an insult.

As for our video, if it aired on HBO, we’d have to precede it with a “strong language” warning. However, there is no “graphic nudity.” A full transcript is after the jump.

David Simon: Stuff like reviews, how is that ever coming back, you know? I can’t imagine. If you’re a TV critic at a newspaper now, Jesus.

Zach Seward: As a TV guy, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

David: No, listen. Listen, critics have been very nice to me. I don’t want to see less of them. That’s less churn.

But if you can create a core, core group of writers than can’t be read anywhere else, and their coverage can’t be found anywhere else, and make it generalist enough— But the root of it right now is geographic, which is, who’s covering central Maryland, who’s covering eastern Pennsylvania, who’s covering? Right now, right now it’s a dying newspaper.

Zach: And part of the HBO model is you can’t sell crap. If it’s not the best out there, no one’s gonna put up money for it.

David: Or if it’s not— You can sell porn. It better be porn you can’t get anywhere else. You know what I mean? Not everything HBO does is great. But, you know, real-life sex documentaries are — it’s porn. But networks won’t do it.

Zach: But people will pay for that, so.

David: Somebody does. It’s all about bringing somebody to the tent who’s willing to pay for that which they can’t get anywhere else. You know, newspapers are gonna say, “We already let the horse out of the barn door. How can you charge for content? Information wants to be free.” All that bulls**t. As I remember, there wasn’t an American in America 30 thirty years ago who paid for their television. Television was free 30 years ago. Now everybody’s paying 16 bucks a month, 17 bucks a month, 70 dollars a month.

Zach: And TV got much better. I mean, well, you might not agree.

David: Oh no, it did. It did get much better. [...]

Zach: You said, you said, “journalism has its codes.” Every man has its, has a code.

[Clips from The Wire]

Bunk Moreland: A man must have a code.

Omar Little: A man got to have a code.

[End of clips]

David: I meant a different kind of code, though. It was an equivocation.

Zach: Yeah, yeah. Every — but one of those codes is objectivity. Tends to be, at least. And that can get in the way of the sort of explanatory, detailing a systemic issue that you’re, that you’re, that, you know, you’d hope to see more of.

David: If you’ve done the work, and you know how things work, and you can demonstrate it, you can be objective and still have a take. You’ve earned it. But you gotta earn it.

Zach: Is that reporters pushing back against skittish editors?

David: At some point, it’s reporters staying on a beat long enough so that they’re not acquiring information for the first or second cycle through. They’re seeing — they start to see the culture of the beat. But if everybody just wants to get to the White House and wear the little thing around their neck and be cool, and nobody actually wants to cover a beat like poverty or labor or —

Zach: Cops.

David: — or the port or whatever. [...]

[Title card: "Is 'The Wire' journalism?"]

David: It’s not journalism. It’s drama. It has a journalistic impulse that is its origin, but it’s not journalism. It’s made up.

Zach: Because it’s not true?

David: Right. You’ll never catch me calling The Wire journalism. The closest I’ll say is, it has a journalistic impulse. [...]

Zach: Wolfe calls it — Tom Wolfe called his fiction journalism.

David: I know. I know what he meant, but that was hyperbole.

POSTED     April 17, 2009, noon
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Opening up the archives: JSTOR wants to tie a library to the news
Its new site JSTOR Daily highlights interesting research and offers background and context on current events.
Six fresh ideas for news design from a #SNDMakes designathon
New media and legacy media came together at the second weekend-long “hackathon” hosted by the Society for News Design.
Where you get your news depends on where you stand on the issues
A new study by the Pew Research Center examines how Americans’ news consumption habits correlate with where they fall on the political spectrum.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
803A mixed bag on apps: What The New York Times learned with NYT Opinion and NYT Now
The two apps were part of the paper’s plan to increase digital subscribers through smaller, targeted offerings. Now, with staff cutbacks on the way, one app is being shuttered and the other is being adjusted.
537Watching what happens: The New York Times is making a front-page bet on real-time aggregation
A new homepage feature called “Watching” offers readers a feed of headlines, tweets, and multimedia from around the web.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Gotham Gazette
ESPN
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Topix
Publish2
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
FiveThirtyEight
National Review
Charlottesville Tomorrow
California Watch
The Boston Globe
Mother Jones