The New Yorker published a letter I wrote last week, in response to a Malcom Gladwell article arguing that only the magical thinking of “batty geniuses” could have unraveled the Enron scandal.
It would be vain to re-publish the letter here except that the issue being debated is screwing up the high-technology industry: we’re drowning in so much spin that it’s hard for anyone to tell which companies are doing something real. What high-tech journalists need to sort through it all is not Malcolm Gladwell’s brain transplant, just the money, time and latitude to pursue tough stories.
In fact, Gladwell’s gimmick journalism — which began when he started selling books & speeches to corporate America — is usurping the diligent search for facts because it’s cheaper and easier to do. Newsrooms are being starved for resources even as the people they have to contend with are spending more money on PR than ever.
Every time Redfin launches a new market, I visit a newsroom spooky with empty desks and talk to a reporter overwhelmed with assignments. Newspapers’ new corporate parents talk about “content” as if journalism were no different from this blog post, which is slanted, written quickly, and has an agenda other than truth.
The reason we should all care about this, even those of us who don’t care for journalists, is because the Enron scandal demonstrates that a capable press is crucial not only for the operation of a free country, but a free market. Without journalists who have the resources to really dig into a business — as opposed to simply presenting quotes from two different sides — more companies will swindle the public.
Not that any amount of complaining will change anything. When the issue came out with this letter and other protests, I anxiously waited for accolades and arguments to come pouring in. Only my twin brother wrote me an e-mail, asking if I’d seen the Christy Turlington photo on page 2?
All of which made me feel silly for being so excited to get published in the first place. I got the call while visiting a bankruptcy judge in Brooklyn, from what sounded like a scrupulous, dignified British lady, and was nearly overcome because I have tried so long to get into the New Yorker, and because I was still recovering from a humiliating smackdown by Allan Dalton.
At that moment, I jostled into a young man wearing a very stiff red baseball hat and a red leather jacket, who angrily claimed I had broken his glasses. He held up a pair of glasses that looked as if they had been caught beneath the skidding wheels of an 18-wheeler and demanded $200. “How about $20?” I said. He went for it. The money safely exchanged, neither one of us cared to acknowledge what had really happened.