More media on media

More media on media

: I’m scheduled to appear on PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer tonight on the Newsweek mess. Here‘s what I have to say.

: Tim Porter:

When is this self-destructive obsession by the press with “scoops” and “exclusives” going to end?…

I don’t need to tell you that overall press credibility – regardless of platform – continues to slide. A Pew Research Center study (PDF) released in April found that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing printed in newspapers. Newsweek fared almost as badly. Nearly 40 percent don’t believe what they read in the magazine and in a section of the report devoted to political news, only 10 percent said they learned about politics from Newsweek, a 50 percent drop from year earlier….

There is a deeper issue behind the reliance on unnamed sources: Values.

Reporters and news organizations wield anonymity as a tool to gain what many of them see as their most prized possession – a scoop, an exclusive, a “The-Daily-Blatt-has-learned” story….

The obsession with being first was so strong that the wire services or networks routinely crowed (or at crow) if they beat the competition by minutes.

That day is gone. News today is a continuum. It flows ceaselessly from producer to consumer and, more and more, back again to the producer. It can be stopped and recorded for consumption later, it can be sampled at any hour of the day or night, or it can be ignored altogether, as it increasingly is.

This news environment needs a new set of values. I outline some pairs of old and new values last month. Here’s the pair that applies to the Newsweek debacle:

Old Newsroom Value: Competition. The obsession with being first leads to a buffet line of bad journalistic behavior – deal-cutting, anonymous sources, lop-sided stories (with follow-ups often receiving lesser play than the original, errors, out-right chicanery and plagiarism.

New Value: Context. Thoroughness serves readers, not sources. Information, with more reporting, becomes education. Transparency trumps anonymity.