Yes, we need the MSM shark

19sharkdm_468x591jpgOK, let's talk about this. Let's pull this comment from the Dallas Morning News religion-beat funeral post right out front. It comes from long-time reader Chris and deserves open debate.

Terry, your premise is either that professional reporters only work for MSM publications or that the only religion coverage worth reading comes from MSM publications. Either way, I reject your premise. Feel free to ban me.

We readers are a bit more discerning than you believe us to be. MSM publications are failing for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost it is because they have forgotten to put the customer first.

To which I responded.

... You are right that there are professionals in the "non-mainstream." But they work FOR the institutions and for advocacy groups, with very few exceptions. They write tons of fine stuff and I read tons of it. Always have always will. So we both know that.

But the mainstream is still about 80 percent of the info that most of the world knows. You don't want a world in which Stewart yelling at Limbaugh is normal news, or where the only info you have about, oh, the Anglican war comes from the Episcopal News Service and the online Anglican blogosphere. You need Eric Gorski, whether you know it or not.

Professional reporters have salaries and some degree of independence. Laugh at that. But it matters.

I accept much or even most of your attacks on the mainstream. That's why this blog exists -- to criticize the bad and praise the good.

You are, however, losing sight of the basic structural reality of media and info.

Let's switch subjects. The Illinois legislature. Nice, clean bunch of folks, right?

You think life in Illinois will be better with only 15 full-time, local-beat mainstream reporters covering the legislature, not 150. That's your argument. That's what you are saying.

Right? And don't tell me about the media habits of 5 percent of highly motivated readers, such as yourself. Tell me about PUBLIC DISCOURSE in this nation as a whole. Get real.

We have been through these waters before and, in the current crisis, this debate really matters.

As I said in a post -- fitting called "RIP: The religion beat? -- last summer:

It takes real money to pay people to report and edit real information. Most of what happens in weblogs -- like this one, frankly -- is secondary writing and criticism. We are all like those little fish stuck on the flanks of big sharks. Someone has to fund the shark, which does the real hunting.

You may not like the shark. The shark makes me mad, plenty of times. But we need the shark.

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