"War moves to capricious rhythms."
I am in awe.
Amazing reporting. Two things:
(1) This story about The Lions of Tawhid is more gripping than any spy thriller (novel or movie). I can not name another reporter who would be given this level of access and who could pull this off. Better than Hemingway in Spain.
(2) The strength of Chris and Bryan's work is motivating some of the defense wonks in D.C. to make public pitches for NYT subscriptions. During the last 5 years, I have never seen a think tanker or scholar be moved like this (see link below).
Question: Should there be a better way to support Chris and Bryan's journalism outside of subscribing to the entire NYT?
As Abu Muqawama writes in the article you linked, "I also realize that I am now helping to pay the salaries of some reporters and columnists who shall remain nameless but whose work I respect less than that of Chris and Bryan."
I wonder whether reporters like Chris and Bryan will still need the New York Times in five years. As I see it, The New York Times provides its writers with three main things: distribution, resources (fixers/editors) and credibility. All three seem like they can be obtained on the web without tying Chris and Bryan's fate to the output of hundreds of other journalists covering sports and whatever else.
The question is, will people pay directly for reporting like this?
Really? Distribution and resources, yes, but I still don't think you can build credibility on the Web of the caliber that you can get from the New York Times.
I can't imagine this piece would have happened had they tried to bandy about to the militia the number of followers they had on Twitter or their blog's monthly uniques. (cf. "I can not name another reporter who would be given this level of access and who could pull this off.") The nuance we have for reporting in the States a) doesn't exist elsewhere and b) doesn't much matter when you're amid the chaos of war.
Trusted brand names, in the end, still mean something.
"As I see it, The New York Times provides its writers with three main things ..."
Yes, distribution and credibility are likely obtainable independently. Look at Josh Marshall and TPM. He made himself credible, built his reputation, installed his own distribution.
But he second part though, resources, is a bigger deal than getting someone to fix some typos and hire a body-guard. The system allows for coverage continue while reporters are following leads or flying to the Middle East. The system provides the institutional wisdom to raise young reporters to become Chrises and Bryans. The system produces the background of historical coverage, platform, and production value for talented individuals to do incredible journalism.
Credibility is in flux. Obviously the NYT opens doors, but credibility is mostly a combination of the individual and the institution. Unless you are reporting at the Economist, your byline (and Twitter handle) is increasingly more valuable. Consider Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias. Both of these bloggers are now employees at high profile media companies due to a combination of talent, hard work and building a loyal audience.
It is more than "check out my twitter follower count" or "monthly uniques." Chivers is the author of a best selling book and a former Marine. I don't think we are at a place where independent ventures are worth taking the risk, but we are getting closer. The Byliner is a good example. See Krakauer's Byliner Original.
The system isn't everything and, of course, a skilled polymath *could* produce, edit, report, backfield, and survive. We will see more of these polymaths as technology continues to abstract some of the difficulty. But all of us will always be smarter than any of us. We shouldn't lionize the independent journalist against the journalistic organization. We should empower the former and work to correct the ills of the latter.
As far as taking cheap shots at sports journalists, it's unnecessary. You can't separate the work of one desk from another cleanly. There's a culture of mutual inspiration and sense genesis among colleagues. A newspaper should be properly multi-dimensional if it wants to accurately reflect a multi-dimensional experience.
I think you're right that the functions of a modern news organization are ferociously important, I just question whether they couldn't be carried out by a different social arrangement.
For instance, could journalistic training move towards an apprenticeship model, where young journalists share their expertise with new technology in exchange for mentoring in traditional journalistic values? Why is it important that Chris and Bryan are attached to an outlet that does continuing coverage, as opposed to letting, say, Andy Carvin cover the daily ebb and flow of the conflict in Syria while they focus on an in-depth profile? Couldn't "historical coverage, platform, and production value" all be provided by something other than a NYT?
I think we'll see the value of brand names, at least as they're traditionally conceived, decline. At this point, I have more faith that something will be good if it's tweeted by @nytjim than by @nytimes, and I expect that my reliance on news curators/aggregators will only increase.
The New York Times is special in that its brand conveys quality across boundaries of industry, culture, and geography, but perhaps the days of universally relevant and respected publications are at an end? According to a Pew Poll, only 37% of Republicans trust the NYT, and I would imagine its believability and brand value varies wildly around the globe. people-press.org
Question: Can individuals take over the NYT's role as signal of quality?
Ben, let's jump to 2022. There is a publication comprised of curators/aggregators, beat journalists, investigative journalists and commentators. Each of these individuals brought an organically built audience. Individually, these journalists made a small profit, but together they can substantially increase their ad revenue.
Erik, this hypothetical publication (cue Conan's in the year 2000) would use this ad revenue + a percentage or other revenue streams (subscriptions, books, videos, smell-o-vision, ...) to cover editing, production and development.
Journalists as owners. Hire managers/business folks to keep the ship afloat. Ownership lies in those who are producing. People can sell their stake and go out on their own.
Thanks for your feedback! Team Branch