Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dying Newspapers

Kathleen Parker in the Sunday WaPo would like to blame the "drive by pundits" for the demise of the print newspapers, that their never ending blather of bias and media elite is finally having terminal effects. Quite frankly the endless drum beat of primarily conservative Republicans is irritatingly stupid and has had some effect, but the question of why isn't answered by blaming the noise. The "drive by" was a slam at Rush and his ditto platoon for his usage of "drive by media" attacks headed his (and their) way. Obviously if you don't like what someone says about your facts then they are biased - liars in fact - is a solid defense. The existence of that tactic is scarcely surprising, nor is its existence defining of the problem. There is a reason that tactic and the falling interest in newspapers are seemingly joined.

If people are to spend money for a newspaper there must be a reason to spend that money. That would be that the money is well spent, that a good return on on the investment occurs. That return would be trustworthy information, information that will stand the test of being put up against multiple sources. While Fox News may thrive by telling people what they want to hear people are bit more demanding of what they read. After September 11 newspapers became cheerleaders for the Bush Administration and followed its party line. Questions were not asked about the detentions that followed or why certain factions seemed unquestionable. This carried forward through the Afghanistan campaign and into the Iraq War with the narrow exception of Knight-Ridder (now McCalatchy) and even farther through the Bush Administration and including the 04 campaign and voting irregularities. There were bits and pieces of pushback against the stenography of Administration talking points and some potent reporting did occur. The problem is that the reporting began to involve actual journalistic endeavors about the time the Administration's popularity began to fall and it looked pretty opportunistic.

Organizations that draw primarily from one field of study will have blind spots, these may be ideological or more sociological in nature, but they do tend to exist. My experience with journalists has been that they are abjectly ignorant in regard to firearms as objects. Because firearms play such a large role in entertainment they assume they do know something or don't care that they don't know and that is reflected in their work and immediately discredits them with those who do know.

Even as infrequent occurrences these things add up, it is death from a thousand cuts. The public remembers being let down and doesn't like it and resents the idea of being asked for money to be let down. The advances on the Internet in ability to not only get multiple sources but also fact check at original points makes the errors and omissions more egregiously obvious. When politicians make unfounded statements or out right lies and the media simply reports them, the people who find out that the media has not challenged these statements are unhappy. It doesn't take a lot of that for people to think that the newspaper isn't doing its job.

At the time radio became widespread, it was thought it would mean the end of newspapers - it wasn't. The rise of television was then to be the death of newspapers - nope. Now the idea is that the Internet is killing newspapers. There is a problem with the idea, there is little evidence that the Internet provides much in the line of original reporting and particularly little investigative work. This lack is clear to users, but what is also clear is that free trumps paid when the product isn't what you expect have. Newspapers have no boot time, they weigh a couple ounces, and they are quite portable with no power requirement. But you're already paying Internet access fees and you can get a version of the paper there.

Elites? Bias? How about doing the job?


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

the print wing of the 4th estate was effectively doomed by media consolidation. Corporations with no connection with or sympathy for "the Press" took over and began the slow process of reducing them to irrelevance. The corporations owning the Press quickly began reducing: first went the size of the news hole, then the number of pages, then the number of reporters, bureaus, etc. These corpoRats weren't big fans of the Press anyway, because in its role as the unofficial, de facto monitors of the public sphere, they were frequently critical of hwo big bidness operated. So investigative journalsim was the first to go.

They won't sell of their electronic properties, of course, because those are already marginalized and irrlelvant. The Print media held on longer than the CorpoRats anticipated, but the waiting game has now paid off. First, the Abq Trib, then the Rockie (RMN) and now the PI. Which leaves their cities in the hands of home-towners.

Chuck Butcher said...

media consolidation is one of the great evils to occur to media - period.