‘The Wire’ writer Simon assails the media industry, says there is ‘no future’

Young aspiring journalists would be wise to avoid discussing the current state of the media industry with David Simon.

When asked what he sees as the future of journalism Simon, the Emmy Award winning producer and writer of HBO’s “The Wire,” says bluntly that there is “no future” for journalism if it stays on the course it is currently on.

A former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon spoke Monday at the National Press Club. Wearing blue jeans, a rumpled blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Simon reflected on his own career at the Sun before taking a buyout and leaving journalism in 1995 to work on other projects, including several television shows and a book.

Simon said early on that he is “a little suspicious of my own voice on this” since he has been out of journalism for 14 years. Simon, however, has become something of an expert on the industry. The fifth season of The Wire exposed many problems with the local media industry and, as a result, Simon’s opinion has been highly sought after. Just last month he testified in front of a Senate panel on the future of the media.

While many in the industry blame the internet for downward spiral of the mass media, Simon said the seeds of its demise were planted in the 1980s when chains sought to maximize profits and the product suffered.

Corporate run newspaper chains “said we can make more money putting out a mediocre paper than a great paper,” he said.

“We destroyed ourselves,” he said to a room filled with several older newspaper and magazine editors.

Simon wasn’t entirely negative, though, and he did provide some prescriptions for the future. Local and national papers must develop a model to charge online readers, Simon said. Of course, he said, that would be easier if the devotion to profits hadn’t already made papers “mediocre” and, therefore, less desirable.

“If you are putting out a product and no one is willing to pay for it,” he said, “you don’t have a product.”

Another way for journalists to succeed is developing expertise in a specific area. He sharply criticized a trend in the media to become more generalized and, to laughs in the audience, noted that one of the best things to happen to him was never getting a promotion from the cops beat at the Sun. Because of that, he said, he developed an expertise of Baltimore police system.

Simon also suggested a non-profit model for online local news could be successful. He is highly skeptical of blogs for news, though, and said he doesn’t believe in “citizen journalism” or “unprofessional journalism.”

Tags Citizen journalism David Simon David Simon Entertainment Journalism News media Newspaper Person Career Publishing Quotation Television The Baltimore Sun The Wire

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