If you aren't in journalism, you may have no idea how big this is: but it's huge, absolutely huge that The New York Times' economics reporter Peter Goodman is joining the Huffington Post, in a shift that was announced yesterday. Trust me, in the macro-sense of the word, this is much more important than the news that Howard Fineman just left the decimated Newsweek for the HuffPo. That's merely a story of a guy who saw his ship sinking and was very aware that, in boating terms, Newsweek is a dingie; the HuffPo -- which now compares favorably to nytimes.com in terms of traffic -- is a luxury yacht.
The Goodman shift is the more important move of the two because of why Goodman says he's leaving. And it gets to the heart of how social media has changed the news business. He told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: ""For me it's a chance to write with a point of view. It's sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting."
He notes that, as a Times journalist, he had to struggle to keep his point of view out of it, even when it was valid -- that is, based on facts and figures rather than gut reactions and biases. To appear objective, he went through "almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader."
Boy, have I been there, and boy, does it sometimes feel like a waste of time -- which is to say nothing negative about think tanks or -- or, in my case, online industry experts. They are the people who help form the knowledge base that's necessary to have an opinion worth reading. It's just that in the expansive world of social media -- particularly, of course, on blogs -- there is more room for more intelligent people to say what they really think.
Let the official parties regurgitate the news as they need to, and let the people and institutions involved make their official, canned statements to the media -- but what most people really want to know is what people in-the-know think it means. And that's where people covering beats throughout the country, from sports to digital media, add value to the information glut.
As social media has gained momentum, notions of what journalism is, and isn't, have led to an imbalance that news like the Goodman shift are helping rectify. Years ago, bloggers sitting in the basement in their pajamas were empowered by technology to publish their opinions. Meanwhile, many of the people with the most access to the movers and shakers behind stories were prohibited from saying what they really thought by old definitions of what journalism is. Nothing against pajama bloggers -- I've been one -- but in the hierarchy of people the rest of us could benefit from reading, I'd usually choose the journalist with access to both insiders and WordPress over someone who isn't as able to get close to the details.
While the simple headline of the HuffPo's hire this week is "Print Reporters Go Online," to me it's more a matter of mindset. Goodman hasn't so much gone from print to the Web as he has from an older notion of what journalism is to a newer one.