Monday, May 23, 2005

Mainstream Media RIP?

John Leo sees a lot of uncertainty about the future of the Mainstream media. He offers this today in Townhall:

Much of what journalists turn out is very good. But when they omit or mess up stories, run badly skewed polls, or publish disgraceful front-page editorials posing as news stories, nobody seems to notice because groupthink is so strong.

Time is running out on the newsroom monoculture. The public has many options now—as well as plenty of media watchdogs, both professional and amateur. So the press takes its lumps and loses readers. In March, a report on the state of the media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said that in the past 17 years, Americans have “come to see the press as less professional, less moral, more inaccurate, and less caring about the interests of the country.” According to the report, fewer than half of Americans think of the press as highly professional (49 percent, down from 72 percent 17 years ago). Another finding was that coverage of George Bush during the presidential campaign was three times as negative as coverage of John Kerry (36 percent to 12 percent). If the press is that much out of sync with the country, its future looks very uncertain. Something has to change.

Earlier in the article, the Newsweek debacle reared its ugly head:

Instead of trampling Newsweek—the magazine made a mistake and corrected it quickly and honestly—the focus ought to be on whether the news media are predisposed to make certain kinds of mistakes and, if so, what to do about it. The disdain that so many reporters have for the military (or for police, the FBI, conservative Christians, or right-to-lifers) frames the way that errors and bogus stories tend to occur. The antimilitary mentality makes atrocity stories easier to publish, even when they are untrue.

While I will agree that Newsweek quickly offered an “excuse” for what happened, I am not yet ready to say they were very honest about it. I still say the only regret they had was that the story didn’t go over particularly well.

In the days before bloggers and other media watchdogs were as prevalent as they are today, the story would have, at most, been a blip on the radar screen. Today, however news stories are picked apart before the print rollers get cold. This is good and can only lead to better fact-checking and more reliable information. We can all disagree about what the facts mean, but at least now we are dealing with facts.

I don’t believe Newsweek has been trampled, but I do believe a story lacking merit and newsworthiness has. And rightly so! Newsweek is not the problem; the culture within the organization is the problem. It is the same culture that dominates a large percentage of the mainstream media today.

In the not so distant future, if not already, a majority of Americans will not care whether the media is “predisposed to making certain types of mistakes”; they will simply go elsewhere. They will do so because they can and are already doing so in ever growing numbers. This is unlikely to change unless the internal culture of the mainstream media changes. If they continue to ignore this problem, one day they will find that it will go away. It won’t be because we have become complacent, it will be because they have become irrelevant.

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