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Typically, Whet Moser leaves the Reader thanking and praising us. The compliment needs to be returned. As web editor and blogger Whet contributed to the Reader in many different ways, among them by explaining the future to us. He understands new media as few do, and at the time of the Chicago Journalism Town Hall two years ago — the event that, none too soon, set the city's staggering media on the path of collective self-examination, no one was more insightful and illuminating than he. He produced a blog post so lucid the Reader put it on its cover. It's in my pantheon of exceptional Reader stories, if not his own.
Should people write for free?
There's a fair amount of resentment about this, but there really isn't anything you can do about it. James Warren will write for free, and he used to be managing editor at the Trib! You are not going to stuff that genie back in the bottle. That's how the Reader started, by the way, so in some ways I am living off the spilled blood of 70s civic idealists who may not be that far removed from the traitors at ChuffPo.
The tension comes from something unspoken: some of these people writing for free are better at writing than many of the people who are paid to write. Back in the dark ages Richard Roeper was the only conduit for the typical Sun-Times subscriber who wanted SOP meandering about pop culture but didn't need so much that he or she needed to also pay for Entertainment Weekly and Us, and that was a smart economic decision on both sides.
Now anyone with a computer can read those, and thousands of other professional and amateur equivalents. You can also use Twitter and it's kind of like reading a Richard Roeper column (you can even follow Richard Roeper on Twitter, but it's less interesting than most Twitter feeds).
Look at it economically: the value of Richard Roeper, star columnist, has declined due to market forces. There are a lot of people offering the same or better service. The Roeper Bubble has burst.
And I don't mean to pick on Richard Roeper. Well, actually I do, but there are more grave examples. Take David Brooks. The New York Times, a while back, thought people might want to pay to read David Brooks, and then they thought otherwise. Here's the thing about him: he's a journalist who writes about economics and politics. This is in fact what most journalists are: they are journalists, by training, who have trained to write about specific areas of expertise. On the other hand, Brad DeLong is an economist who writes. (If Brad DeLong is too liberal for you, there are more conservative economists who write, too.)
It turns out writing is the easier thing to learn. It is the less valuable commodity.
Most journalists are loath to admit this, because it means being part of the Roeper Bubble. A lot of the people newspapers pay to write are not just competing against people who write for free, they are competing against people who write better than they do, and those people are compelled to write because they are experts, which they are paid to be.
More simply: journalists have historically been paid by newspapers to call up experts and talk to them (I have done this many times), and to then relay that information back to the reader. Now many of those experts write. For readers. It saves the experts time, and usually a lot of stupid questions (I have asked those many times).
This does not of course mean that journalists are useless, only that some of them are, and only fairly recently. Keep reading. I am not anywhere close to done.
Read the whole essay here. The good news is that Whet Moser isn't disappearing. He's moving to Chicago magazine as associate digital editor.