Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No wonder old media is dying

And media pooh-bahs wonder why people are increasingly unwilling to pay money for work which fails to meet their most basic expectations for the profession.

I recently sent an email to a senior figure at a local news media outlet complaining about a shoddy piece of reporting. In it, the journalist reported claims that were obviously untrue... to the point where if the reporter had paid attention to another part of his own story, he ought to have figured this out.

The response began, "While the reporting [sic] is not responsible for inaccurate conclusions from someone he has quoted, I would agree that the reporter did a poor job..."

So a professional reporter is not responsible for checking the veracity of claims made by someone he interviews. 

Wait, WHAT?!

Call me old school but isn't verification the fundamental difference between journalism and transcription?


13 comments:

Stephen said...

Old media isn't dying cause of poor content. It's cause their business model is wrecked. "Old" Media assumes there is a "New" media. There is no such thing. The new blog/newsite/aggregators aren't media any more than Napster was a record company. Everything, and I mean everything that they post is despendent upon newspaper stories that they lifted.

Brian said...

The idea that the New Media is nothing more than blogs of opinions (like this one) linked to ‘real’ news outlets is outdated by several years. There’s quite a bit of new citizen journalism, whether it’s reporting on municipal meetings or posting video of rallies or even investigative work the sort MOFYC contributor Mark Wilson has had published here. Even Pro Publica is doing excellent investigative journalism that’s essentially free to the end user and online only. Is New Media ready to fully replace Old Media? No, not yet. Is it supplementing Old Media by filling in the increasingly huge holes in their work as the Old Media cannibalizes itself? Absolutely.

To say that the collapsing quality of content is irrelevant is way off. Yes, the business model is broken. But why? People no longer feel it’s worth their hard-earned money for content that’s getting more and more shallow and empty. Most of my local newspaper is superficial wire service articles and features that I could get for free online. So essentially what I’m paying for is a handful of local news stories (of which only a couple usually interest me), a few municipal meeting wrap ups, vapid letters to the editor and police blotter. Oh and local sports. People are increasingly starting to believe this is no longer indispensible to their civic lives, at least not to the point of spending money on it.

That’s why I’ve been a strong advocate for newspapers mostly ditching the shallow wire articles and dime-a-dozen op-eds and re-allocating their resources to do more good local journalism (and thus employing more local reporters). That’s would create a truly value-added product that people would be more likely to find it worth paying for.

Brian said...

Back to the subject of this post, I don't see how you can say poor content has no role. A 'news' article that merely amplifies allegations by a single individual without independent verification is NO DIFFERENT than the blogs you deride. It's like C-SPAN... and you can watch C-SPAN for free.

Stephen said...

My statement stands. I rarely find a blog that digs up new content, new revelations about the world. They are rarely anything more than opinion machines. Yes, local news is often weak, and their revelations are few and far between. I read my own local newspaper, another Lee company and local blogs. The former is sparse, the latter are a vacuum.

As for Pro Publica.... Well well well. Who were they founded by and who is their largest, almost sole, funder? Herb Sandler formerly CEO of Golden West Bank. The man who INVENTED the adjustible rate morgage, the vehicle of the credit crisis, and pushed them on poor people. And what did Pro Publica write its 2009 Pulitzer on? Why, a hedge fund, Magnetar, that was short selling the CDOs that were comprised of Sandlers products. How convenient for Mr. Sandler that Pro Publica was "exposing" a hedge fund that was perfectly legally and shrewdly devaluing Mr. Sandlers trashy financial products. The Pulitzer committee was clearly trying to hard to give an award to an online publisher.

Stephen said...

This is not to totally trash internet journalism. In my hometown, the Voice of San Diego, is a great online paper, granted it was started by some dudes from the UPI and Chicago Tribune and seems to be staffed by trained journalists, with said degree.
Take another example in my hometown, the Leucadia blog. Its good, gives updates on small things like changes in roads, gang activity, whatever. Great stuff. Read it all the time. But i notice that this blogger never writes on the frequent, marathon water rights meetings in the area, or 8 hour land use council meetings, things that have serious gravity in the area. And, no blogger in my area does. They cant. They have 'real' jobs. Blogging is a pastime for them. It is bound to be inconsistant and not up to the task of more serious things.
-stephen judge, RPCV, Benin, 2003-2005

Brian said...

I realize that new media is still evolving and is not yet ready to completely take over. I still think it holds a significant role in *complimenting* old media. The purpose of this essay is to discuss old media (or, if you're hung up on that phrase, traditional media).

For example, I think it's completely unacceptable for a mainstream journalist to make the statement reported in the original essay. Publishing claims without bothering to verify them is not journalism, it's transcription. It is NO DIFFERENT WHATSOEVER than what you find on most blogs.

Clearly the financial model of old media is wrecked, but I believe the content model is also broken, a relic of the 1950s, when the media landscape was very different. In addition to the collapsing standards referred to in this blog, the mile wide-inch deep, a little of everything for everybody model is no longer relevant.

Stephen said...

"I believe the content model is also broken, a relic of the 1950s, when the media landscape was very different."

If not earlier... newspapers have been in decline since WWII. Only the classifieds made them so huge later on. Citizen journalists will be an integral part of the news of the future, I would say it will be a 33-66% citizen vs. professional journalist future and the two will work together. I think we will see a huge shakeout in journalism in the coming years, as only the highest quality survives, and crap of the sort you mention is ushered into oblivion. And upon further reflection I do concede some of your points and that citizens will play a bigger role than I'd like to think.
But I still see the future of news as one that is steered by professional journalists at large media companies... perhaps not the same media companies around today (Lee and McClatchy may be gone). I think it's important to have media as large profit making machines. It sounds bad at first, but it takes a large strong company to stand up to companies like Exxon with their armies of lawyers. I just can't see a small news organization taking on a giant like that.

Jon Alexander said...

Was it one of my stories?

Brian said...

It was a few weeks ago so I honestly don't remember who wrote it.

Jon Alexander said...

Do you recall the topic or issue?

Brian said...

Jon: for reasons which I don’t want to get into (but which have nothing to do with the media outlet in question), I didn’t publish specifics in my original post.

Jon Alexander said...

Oh I realize that.. Had to push though, Brian. Like to know when I drop the ball, which has certainly happened a few times.

Brian said...

Understood Jon. I used to be a journalist and editor myself. My point was the whole reason editors exist is to provide a safety net, a second pair of eyes and POV, for necessarily rushed daily journalism. The safety net seems to be fraying at most media outlets... a death spiral, if you ask me.