Friday, December 12, 2014

What is 'The Real Crisis in Journalism'?

George Packer at The New Yorker this week offered up a comforting etiological myth regarding "The Real Crisis in Journalism," suggesting "It’s true that journalism is in crisis, but the crisis has nothing to do with the work journalists actually do."

In what's either a disingenuous or ahistorical lament, Packer declared that, "It’s easy to feel that the very task of reporting and writing in depth, at length, and in complex detail is somehow to blame for [journalism's] problems." But he reassured his peers with a pat on the head that they need not straightaway put on the hair shirt. You see, "The crisis in journalism is a business crisis, and it’s been going on for twenty years," which of course roughly corresponds to the arrival of the Internet, which led to all those nasty bloggers, podcasters, celebrity Twitter feeds, etc., that allegedly took away the media's mojo.

IMO, though, the Internet only exacerbated journalism's problems, it did not cause them. Last year, this blog offered a contrary view: "Some say the internet is killing the newspaper industry but the truth is it was dying long before most readers had a PC and an email account. (Ask the former employees of the Dallas Times Herald and the Houston Post.) Grits instead believes a major underlying reason for journalism's decline is a preponderance of poor quality, formulaic journalism that fails to meet  popular needs for engaging the democratic process."

The rise of alternative web media accelerated journalism's decline, no doubt. But the deeper crisis predated that development and continues independent of it, such that Christopher Lasch could write (quite accurately) in 1990 that, "Much of the press, in its eagerness to inform the public, has become a conduit for the equivalent of junk mail. Like the Post Office - another institution that once served to extend the sphere of face-to-face-discussion and to create 'committees of correspondence' - it now delivers an abundance of useless, indigestible information that nobody wants most of which ends up as unread waste." How much more true is that today? That's the real crisis in journalism, of which the business crisis is but a symptom.


Anonymous said...

Pravda claimed what they printed was the truth. So does our left wing media.

Anonymous said...

Part of the crisis can be contributed to newspapers no longer reporting on stories of interest to the readers. Instead, so much of the space was devoted to topics the ownership wanted to put out to the masses, whether they be liberal or conservative.

Another issue is ignoring or over reporting on a topic, depending on what the political bent was of the ownership and editors. Add to that the volume of space taken up with advertising and the cost of the paper, and in essence, newspapers have contributed to their own demise.

Anonymous said...

Wendy Davis got the endorsement of the American Statesman and Houston Chronicle among others. Is there anything else in recent memory that better exemplifies how completely out of touch the so called mainstream media is with the population and readership in this state? Good riddance.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'd encourage y'all to read the Christopher Lasch piece linked in the post. The issue isn't just telling folks what they want to hear, it's telling them what they need to know to engage in democratic decision making.

Like so many things in the world, these aren't left-right R-D issues. Indeed, oh that it were more simple.

Anonymous said...

As compared to the 1950s, today there are more forms of entertainment competing for fewer hours of attention. People spend more of their waking hours at work or travelling to and from work. You can't read a newspaper while driving a car.

People only have time for a tiny bit of news and entertainment. Thats why we turn to news aggregators ... to filter for the stuff we are most interested in spending our precious time reading. Thats also why You Won't Believe This One Simple Trick to XYZ is such a compelling headline... click-bait.

Anonymous said...

I think another problem is the QUALITY of the average student who matriculates in and graduates from journalism degree programs. Every prom-queen thinks she wants to go into "communications," or "journalism" these days. Many journalist-reporters seem to have limited critical-thinking skills, and therefore have trouble understanding--much less explaining--complex topics. I used to get called fairly often by reporters because of my area of expertise. I decline them now because I got tired of seeing the finished product, which had little or nothing to do with the information I provided.

And, yeah--bias, bias, bias. You can't trust anything you read in the paper or see on the television news these days.

Anonymous said...

12:33 brings up an important point.

When you notice glaring flows in everything you read in the popular media about your specific area of expertise... and this happens over and over across years without fail... You ultimately realize that it isn't just your area of expertise and that most likely everything in the popular media has substantial flaws that you just don't know enough to notice.

It then become difficult to be interested when you figure out that the "news" is barely half accurate.

Anonymous said...

Well said Anon @ 12:33. My biggest problem is TV journalism where it appears it is all about how pretty you are. Maybe I am too critical but much of the local TV channels seem to be overpopulated by women who are only out there to promote themselves--what they like, how they look, what their kids are doing etc. Very rarely do you hear serious in-depth discussions on important topical issues.

John K said...

"...Pravda claimed what they printed was the truth. So does our left wing media."

Only in the minds of mouth-breathing Tea Party drones does the vast "Lame Stream Media" exist. Typically only science-denying, we-ain't-much for-learnin' know-it-alls like Sarah Palin and Anonymous 8:03PM complain about liberal newspapers...nearly all of which are owned and lorded over by their heros (uber-wealthy conservative business interests).

The problems with newspaper journalism are money and the ever-dissipating attention span of prospective readers.

Quality in-depth reporting is expensive. News staffs/budgets have been steadily shrinking for well more than a decade. Staff cuts were/are rarely matched by cuts in expectations for the scope of coverage. In many newsrooms for the past several years has been do more with less.

So reporters who used to routinely spend several days or weeks working on important stories now must write several stories each day...meaning less time/money for planning, news gathering, fact-checking and careful editing.

Then there's the potential readers...too many of whom seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to inform themselves as citizens in a democracy.

John K said...

last sentence, third paragraph in John K post should read: In many newsrooms for the past several years the mantra has been do more with less.