Mark Steyn posts a fasciating 1994 speech from Punch Sulzberger, the father of the current publisher of the NY Times. Reflecting upon the rise of the internet, Suzlberger commented:
When you buy a newspaper, you aren't buying news - you're buying judgment. Already in this low tech world of instant communications there is too much news. That's the problem. Raw news will do just fine if you're a computer buff and want to play editor. But I, for one, would rather let a professional take the first raw cut at history and spend my leisure time fishing.
Judgment, serendipity and something left over to wrap the fish, all neatly folded, in living color, and thrown at no extra cost into the bushes. All for just a few cents a day. It's called a newspaper. And when you add a wee bit of ink for your hands and top it with a snappy editorial to exercise your blood pressure, who needs that elusive interactive information superhighway of communications.
As I read Sulzberger, he's saying that the job is not simply to report the news, but rather to digest and shape it, informing readers about what is and is not important. That's an aristocratic or technocratic view of the newspaper business--experts judge what is and it not news, and manage how it is reported. (The cynical bit about the purpose of an editorial being to "exercise your blood pressure" is similar. It is not about providing quality analysis. It is about moving the emotions). Personally, I prefer a more democratic view of the news business--the job of reporters is to present information to readers so that they may think about the issues for themselves, and the job of editorials is to provide informed judgment.
For quite some time, I have found it frustrating that articles about important pieces of legislation usually present opinions about the legislation, rather than quoting the proposed bill at length, and talking about the actual meaning of the actual bill. I always assumed it was because reporters would rather call up a couple of Democrats and Republicans, or liberal and conservative think take guys, and quote them, rather than spending the time actally to read pending legislation. Perhaps my judgment was too charitable. Perhaps the Times trains reporters to think that the common citizen ought not to worry his pretty little head with such things.