Journalism's Watson-Holmes dilemma

The death of journalism is a case ripe for Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson. Illustration_for_The_Adventure_of_the_Cardboard_Box_(Sidney_Paget,_1893)

What happened to journalism?

The very same thing that happened to Dr. Watson when he and Sherlock jumped from the pages of a book to moving pictures.

The cinema turned the once dashing, sensitive, and intelligent Watson into a dolt.


Because he was difficult to translate into film.

In the print pages, he was the readers' eyes and ears -- describing the cases for the audience.

Once movies took the duo, Watson's role was no longer needed.

So he turned into the idiot that Holmes had to save and explain everything to as the cases went on.

Eventually, screenwriters finally got a clue and realized that they had to re-work Watson to be more than just Sherlock's appendage to make the hero look even smarter than he was.

The television show Elementary has probably created the best Watson since his print beginnings.

It may have greatly helped that Lucy Liu's Watson had broken other confines, from race to gender. Once Watson broke away from the artificial boundaries, it became easier to find a better role than mere cheerleader for the protagonist.

But in print, Watson was one half of the information audiences needed to hear the tale. He had emotional intelligence, and could translate the emotional details of the case.

Holmes, on the other hand, dealt with the intellectual facts.

And put their pieces together, and you had a rich and nuanced series of mysteries.

So strong, in fact, that they rarely ever needed a murder to rivet readers, and that is no small feat.

But Watson's problem is the same one that journalists find themselves in, though in a different way.

Both Watson and journalists are chroniclers, while former is a fictional one, his mistranslated characterization became very real.

Once upon a time, journalists had all of the access to the public dissemination. They were the gate-keepers.

And they could put out anything they wished.

If they wanted to make fun of a faded starlet's substance abuse problems, they could heap on the scorn.

If they wanted to cheer a Great Man, they could lavish the praise.

If they wanted to ignore the poor or stereotype a minority, they could do it.

They could crib from press releases, or they could do actual reporting. It was their call.

And whatever they decided to disseminate was newsworthy as they had no competition.

So if they wanted to print a letter to the editor, or conduct a streeter, getting in the newspaper or the evening news was considered a big deal.

Getting interviewed was even bigger.

A profile? You arrived.

The press was the window to the world. It was our lens and filter.

And then came the Internet with social media taking away the traditional power of the press.

You wanted to say your piece? You didn't need to write a letter to the editor.

You had Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, and YouTube to air your point of view.

There is no such thing as an exclusive interview: a newsworthy person can just tweet directly to the world, presenting everything they wish with no fear of editing impeding their telling of their views.

And journalism did not translate well to the Internet. Not one bit.

It wasn't the medium itself. If everyone could air their own television or radio station, the same dilemma would have gripped journalism before.

It is the free and easy access to a large audience that turned the tables.

The Watsons have become displaced, turning into bumbling idiots at every turn.

But the trouble is, those Watsons have turned into Lestrades, refusing to listen to the Holmes' who tried to warn them that they weren't going to fare well on the Internet, and had to change everything in order to stay viable, relevant.

And alive.