Nobody wants less reporting

I keep seeing the same cans of red herrings opened up when big-media guys talk about their future or lack thereof:

Walter Cronkite says that our need for reporting is only greater today. So who’s arguing with that? Show me the person who says we need less reporting. Says Cronkite:

“In this information age and the very complicated world in which we live today, the need for high-quality reporting is greater than ever,” he told journalism students and professionals at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. “It’s not just the journalist’s job at risk here. It’s American democracy. It is freedom.”

So the next red herring out of the can is that cutbacks in big-media budgets mean less reporting. That needn’t be the case. In a time when you can leave the commodity news to others you should concentrate your resources on what bring the greatest value: original reporting.

But too often, real reporting is not what we see from big outlets. We see wall-to-wall Anna Nicole Smith.

Cronkite said news accuracy has declined because of consolidations and closures that have left many American towns with only one newspaper. And as broadcasters cut budgets and air time for news, he said, “we’re all left with a sound bite culture that turns political campaigns into political theater.”

But what killed those local papers? Television. What created the sound-bite culture? Television. Who’s going nutty for Anna Nicole? Televison.

Next on the boat: Charlie Gibson:

“I’m getting on a high horse here, and I haven’t really worked this through, but in many respects the oft-now-derided MSM become more important rather than less important in the Web age,” said Gibson. . . .

“You are choosing the particular kind of news that’s interesting to you. We become more important because our mission is to expose you to things you wouldn’t have clicked on.” . . . .

“The fact that people are going to the Web and gravitating toward news that they want makes it more important for somebody putting together the front page of the Tribune to say, `Well, it’s still important for you,'” he said.

That might sound like a defense of elitism to some.

“It’s a defense of journalism,” Gibson said. “It’s not that we know better. … It’s not an elitist function. It’s an editorial function. It is a function of taking a look at what’s important in diet of daily news and saying, `Here’s what I feel is important.'”

Ah, the serendipity fish. Well, no one says we won’t watch or listen to or read some news while also using the internet. And we will wander by news sites or get news alerts. And our friends will tell us about news stories. Show me the serendipity-starved American and I will show you someone in a coma.

And who’s to say that MSM is the master of serendipity? I see plenty of serendipity on Digg and the blogs I read as well as on big news sites.

Is there still a role for news judgment and editing? Yes, but that should not be about control and not about force-feeding us. It’s about finding the good stuff, researching for us, vetting, adding value. To argue that we can’t get that except at MSM’s dinner table is to argue that only they know what’s good for us.

Listen, we all care about news. We all want strong reporting. We all want help finding the good stuff. We also believe that we all should care about finding new and better ways to get the news. So can we please move on?

  • You have it right. Cutbacks don’t have to mean less journalism. There’s a difference between writers who patch together stories based on press releases, official info, news conferences, etc. and those who find their own sources and dig for information. Doesn’t necessarily have to rise to the level of investigative journalism, just looking for unique angles, views, etc. rather than simply being part of the media herd and saying the same thing as their competitors just with different words.

    I touched on the future of the newspaper industry in my post yesterday on Pardon the Disruption. It goes more to the economics than the substance, but it also seeks to debunk common wisdom on the death of the sector.

    We’re in an era of change in the media and those who evolve and innovate will prosper.

  • Are the tastes of TV viewers formed by the providers or do the viewers force the news programs to give them the types of stories they want to see?

    Most places can now get the half-hour BBC TV news show, either on cable or a PBS station. I wonder how their ratings compare with the network and local news programs? I’m guessing the interest level is fairly low. One can attribute this to their dry style, or their non-American focus, but I think most viewers don’t really care about international news.

    The American public is trained to care about buzz, celebrity and consumerism over other concerns. Look at the large degree of marketing to children (even in schools) to see how early this pattern is promoted.

    So who are these people who want to see more reporting? Are you sure there are as many of them as you believe?

  • I didn’t want to be exposed to this little nugget from Blitzer, and his insistence on giving it to me offers no comfort that the MSM can be relied on to give us the reporting we need.

  • Not to quibble, but what Cronkite said was “high-quality reporting.” He is quoted correctly but paraphrased incorrectly. Though reasonable journalists may differ I would regard that as a material change.

    But quibbling is what this is often all about, the exploration of the grays in the pursuit of not being snowed by people who have a story or who want to conceal one. Those who regard the two states of journalism to be cut-and-pasting press releases + repeating what is said at news conferences vs digging for the truth and cultivating sources do not have it exactly right. And neither are we at the point in this evolution to dismissively assert that journalism will survive and UGN is only and all good and by the way merely oranges to MSMs apples.

    We hear a great deal about the importance of policing and vetting of UGC as if this a trouble-free detail. As a news professional I’d like some news professionals to tell me how that will be done on a massive scale when newsrooms are cutting back, if this sort of reporting is meant to supplant rather than supplement what is being described as commodity coverage.

    Bangalore fact-checkers, perhaps?

  • Tom

    “Show me the serendipity-starved American and I will show you someone in a coma. ”


  • Rick

    Bloggers are generally motivated to inform, or least be heard; MSM is primarily motivated to sell. This is the difference Mr. Gibson pretends to ignore.

  • Rick:
    I think you have made an important point. Jeff Jarvis got inspired to blog and teach after he got caught up in 9/11 and realized how precious life is. I know of several other bloggers who have had similar experiences.

    When one sees the end of life (your own or a loved one’s) then trying to make a difference can become a great motivator.

    Individual journalists may be driven by a similar wish to affect change, but they are constrained by the profit motive as you stated.

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  • Hasan Jafri

    Walter Cronkite’s assertion that “news accuracy has declined because of consolidations and closures” is simply wrong.

    Look at the variety in Iraq war coverage we are seeing thanks to the likes of Salam Pax and The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul Ahad. Look at this blog, inspired by Jeff Jarvis’s need to act and do something real in the aftermath of 9/11. Look at the Saddam execution video, recorded on a phone and released for the world to see. These are things that never could have happened in the old world Walter Cronkite represents. For all the access big media reporters had during the Vietnam, they covered mostly a laundry list of handouts from General William Westmoreland and his team. We romanticize those days, but news consumers today would be unimpressed by the quality of Vietnam War coverage.

    Big media’s burn rate just means the market is becoming more efficient. That’s good news for everyone.

  • Don

    “It’s not just the journalist’s job at risk here. It’s American democracy. It is freedom.”

    It is the soldier, not the reporter,
    Who has given us freedom of the press.
    It is the soldier, not the poet,
    Who has given us freedom of speech.
    It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
    Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
    It is the soldier,
    Who salutes the flag,
    Who serves beneath the flag,
    And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
    Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

    Admiral Jeremiah Denton

  • Hasan Jafri

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Bob Dylan

  • Greg0658

    The Soldier is a pawn, posted to lands near and far,
    whose purpose is to protect the castle,
    where the knights toil; harvesting, mining and molding wares,
    under the tutelage of a designedly bishop,
    for the king and queen to dance at parties and talk of accomplishments,
    while the pawns family looks to the stars and hopes.

    by Me

  • Charlie Gibson is as relevant to the media revolution as a Civil War cannon. Plus, he’s just plain delusional. That can happen, especially from years and years of living in the hermatically-sealed environs of a Big Media anchor chair. I mean, when’s the last time the dude even flew coach? Does he really think he is a voice of news authority? For whom?

    He’s yet another priviledged wanker who gets paid a million dollars a minute to intro a ludicrously short and mediocre news package that’s already been swirled all over the blogosphere, albeit a “package” (one not too far removed from fish sticks in the freezer section nowadays) with very expensive production value, with a few nicey-nice, neutered words leading in to it that any podcaster/blogger out there could trump right off the top of her snarky little head.

    Talk to the hand, Charles.

  • Sorry for the link spam, Jeff, but I couldn’t resist: More to my point above.

  • Dom

    There is no mention of the reduction of lead time as a catalyst for the delivery of low-quality journalism. There seems to be priority in being the first horse out of the gate.

    I realized that this slippery slope was descended upon around the birth of 24 HR new channels (ie: CNN). There is a natural and capricious appetite for real-time event reporting, it needs to be live. It seems that the implemented QA (editors) are indeed handcuffed. We need to run with this, there’s is no time to find secondary or tertiary sources. I cite the occurrence of the awful bit of journalism during the Bush/Gore elections, when something that we consider black and white as election results came with such an apparent gray area.

    In any industry or trade, time is intrinsic with quality. And the lack of turn around time will degrade the product, whether you’re a stay at home blogger or you command the nation’s airwaves.

  • “But what killed those local papers? Television.” Unlikely.
    Over and over research demonstrates that the vast majority (as high as 83%) of missed budgets and slowdowns in growth in corporations are caused by internal, controllable issues. It’s seldom outside forces. And I watched the slowdowns in TV and newspaper profits firsthand. They are their own worst enemy.

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