The SF Chronicle’s David Lazarus, normally a terrific columnist, digs a deeper hole today in a surprisingly un-sharp response to criticism of another recent column.
Here’s what started the debate: “Pay-to-play is one way to help save newspapers.” Please read it and then come back.
I was one of the critics of that column. In this posting, which I hope you’ll also review, I took Lazarus to task on several accounts, including his misguided understanding of the copyright issues he brought up and, even more amazing, his call for a new antitrust exemption for the newspaper industry so it could make more money online.
(I do regret my use of the phrase “pathetically whiny” to describe the way his original column sounded. That was over the top.)
Today, Lazarus fires back in “So who will get the story?” — an angry commentary that, tellingly, fails to seriously address the problems with his original piece.
Let’s be clear on one thing. He has a right, and maybe a duty, to respond when people attack unfairly. And some of the people who responded to his original piece did make some ridiculous claims.
He errs in his utter dismissal of bloggers, however, as anything but uninformed opinion spouters. There’s ample evidence to disprove that broad-brush characterization. But let’s chalk that up to the columnist’s privilege.
In flaying his critics, he writes:
Dozens of bloggers weighed in on my earlier column, and not one — not one — did a lick of original reporting in challenging my ideas.
That is wrong again. I can’t speak for the others whom he insists insist did no reporting (though, how did he know for sure?), but I can speak for myself.
Let’s see. Does my book about the changes in media count as reporting? I spent a considerable portion of that book looking into the questions of how people will get useful news — hopefully, I wrote, via en expanded journalistic ecosystem that includes both the traditional and new media.
Does the fact that I spend my days now looking at these issues — plainly, in a lot more detail than he has — count? My posting was based entirely on my reporting over the past few years.
How much time has Lazarus spent reporting — that is, digging out information — on copyright issues? In the decade I was writing a column at the San Jose Mercury News, and since then, I’ve spent countless hours reading books and documents, and interviewing copyright lawyers and industry people on that subject.
I ask this question because he mischaracterized the copyright questions in his first column. The analogy of YouTube to what aggregators do was flat-out specious. I pointed that out. Lazarus didn’t address that today — or, for that matter, any of the actual issues raised in my posting, except tangentially in the case of wanting to create a newspaper cartel.
The antitrust question is one of opinion. But I can’t believe Lazarus is still asking for a new exemption. His argument in both columns boils down to this: The monopoly era is fading, so we need new protection to preserve a business model that maintains enormous profit margins so we can continue to provide what we consider high-quality journalism.
As I noted in my original response to his first piece, the newspaper industry already has one antitrust exemption — the odious joint-operating agreements that let organizations combine business operations to create advertising dominance in individual cities. Now that the industry’s market power is fading, Lazarus wants more protection.
No. We do not want to grant even more special favors, not to a once-monopolistic and still-rapacious industry that for years has been reducing its journalistic value and screwing its customers.
Lazarus would come down like a ton of bricks — in his normally excellent work as a consumer rights crusader — on any other industry tried to pull the same trick. Does he not see how ironic (the kindest word I can use in this context) his call for protection sounds, coming from him of all people? I guess not.