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?