Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No News is Bad News

Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership National Leadership Index surveyed 1,207 adults nationwide and found the press ranks at the lowest of 12 sectors surveyed, far beneath the Executive Branch, Congress, Local government, Business, Religious organizations and the Military.
Asked “How much confidence do you have in the leadership of the following sectors?” participants ranked the sectors from 1 (none at all) to 4 (great deal). Out of the 12 sectors measured, participants ranked the Press as the lowest with 2.26 compared to the Military, which garnered the highest ranking at 3.15. The Executive branch was second to last with 2.43, followed by Congress at 2.53. The Supreme Court was the third highest ranking with 2.90, followed by Medical at 3.02.
Of those surveyed, 40 percent believe the press is liberally biased, 21 percent conservative biased and 30 percent found the news neutral and 9 percent unsure.
According to the poll, 64 percent polled didn’t trust presidential campaign coverage; 88 percent believe the campaign coverage focused on trivial issues and 84 percent believe the media coverage has too much influence on American voting choices.
Among those polled, 70 percent said coverage of negative ads wasn’t important; while 67 percent said the embarrassing “gotcha” moments weren’t important and that 68 percent felt there were too much coverage of “gotcha” moments.
Americans want campaign coverage to focus on candidate’s values, ethics, policies and political philosophies instead of trivial coverage.
I’m not surprised by the results, but just what is meant by the term “press”? To me, “press” means newspapers and magazines and the written word. Media is a combination of that plus television news.
I’m a journalist. Been one professionally since 1994. Won a few awards for my writing and I’m proud of that. Given my background, I’ve seen the business changing, especially from the newspaper front.
Putting it bluntly, journalism in this country as a craft and public service is in trouble.
Dwindling newspaper readership and circulation losing to the Internet and the multiple 24/7 news cycle, staff reductions and the struggle for profitability are causing many newspapers to retool and re-imagine themselves for the new millennium.
Ownership of newspapers is changing. Publishing conglomerates and private families owning newspapers are selling out to corporations, who gobble up newspapers like they're going out of style.
News Corp. acquired Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News from the McClatchy Company, who in turn bought the papers from Knight Ridder.
Newspapers are changing hands and being reworked to (hopefully) prosper as investments.
But is it working? Studies have shown young people don’t read newspapers. Newspaper subscriptions and circulations are decreasing. The much prognosticated future for newspapers is online. That’s where you’ll get most of your written news, via the Internet.
As to journalism’s past impact and trustworthiness by the American public, it just isn’t there anymore.
Right-wing pundits discredit the press and journalism, saying they’re liberally biased. Left-wing critics maintain the press is corporate controlled and not aggressively questioning authority like they used to.
A story like Watergate changed the nation and showed what a vigilant free press could do and created a boom for journalism schools as budding reporters hungered for newsroom experience. Could the Watergate story be written today and would the public appreciate that scrutiny of the Executive Branch?
The White House Press Corps, weary of questioning the president during wartime, remain obedient lap dogs while abuse and scandal go unchecked. Any investigative reporting or criticism now is painted as liberal media bias or discredited as an ulterior motive.
The problem with journalism is there are few real journalists left. The news is dominated by entertainment and trivial non-stories. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan? We’ve got their latest escapades! O.J. Simpson acting up again? We’ve got it covered! Fed on a steady diet of fluff and bullshit, no wonder why people don’t take the media seriously. It used to be shit like Good Morning America the Today Show served up trite stories and softball questions. Now it’s every cable news network and newsmagazine. The only real bastion of serious news are major daily newspapers, but even their news coverage is slipping and favoring entertainment-driven stories.
We live in the culture of the celebrity, where all is shallow and thinking a liability. News coverage should be balanced and fair, representing all sides of the story instead of a he-said, she-said shallowness and idle gossip permeating the news today.
I’m a news junkie and I occasionally flip around the cable news networks but have grown jaded by the rising superficiality of the coverage. The best and most informative television news program is the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and BBC News.I won't watch the network news, Fox News, MSNBC or CNBC. I tolerate CNN, but loathe their news anchors. Most cable news channels are punditry and opinion.
For newspapers, I read the Sunday New York Times and the local daily, the Press of Atlantic City. I’m also a voracious reader of the online articles and the Drudge Report, not for Drudge's politics but as a repository of global news on one site.
As time passes, the media outlets increase. Where we get our news is changing, as is the actual content.
Maybe the correlation between the press' lack of inspiring confidence and its output of celebrity slop and gotcha journalism make sense.
How do we build trust? Is that even an issue anymore given the huge profits to be made? All we can do is watch helplessly as the corporations saturate the market with spineless stories of celebrities and political coverage that reads like a high school newspaper or tattle sheet. Only then, when objectively informing the public becomes a secondary goal, does the death knell of journalism toll.

1 comment:

Wandering Minstrel said...

Without inferring either liberal bias or conservative/corporate control within the press, the press itself is neither vigilant nor free anymore.

Two examples, from both sides of the fence: 1, Helen Thomas being relegated to the back row of the White House Press Corps when she continued to ask questions the administration didn't like; and 2, the lack of any investigative background checks on several questioners during the CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday night, including a man on Hillary Clinton's staff, an Edwards blogger, etc.

The press has, in this era, simultaneously become both a pariah, and lazy.