This post is a follow-up to our previous Endangered Species series post where we noted the traditional media and journalism death spiral toward extinction. The comment section lit up yesterday and late last night like Ralphie getting his BB gun on Christmas morning!
Passionate comments from BloggerDad ((David Wright) and Becky Blanton (a friend and fellow Triiibe-ster to whom I lobbed a heads up yesterday) get their own post today. I’ve bolded their comments when something wanted to jump out more. Dave and Becky deserve your Stumble and your forwards, which you can easily do with the ShareThis icon at the conclusion of this post.
If anyone else wants to jump into the fray, leave a comment below, or email me (betsywuebkerATpassingthruDOTcom), or link back from your own blog post, or whatever. If anything, this is a demo of how interactivity enlivens and heightens. Thanks, Dave and Becky, and everyone!
Mom, Dave started it:
As one of the laid off journalists of the Great Journalism Purge of 2008, here are some of my thoughts on the subject.
As a newspaper is responsible to its readership, I think its readership is responsible in supporting its newspaper. People have abandoned newspapers, chasing the free content available on the Web. This accelerates a vicious cycle of destruction which will be felt far beyond the newsrooms.
Print media is only as strong as it can afford to be.
With the financial meltdown, advertising plummeted at many papers. Without readership, you are without revenue. Without revenue, staff goes. Without staff, quality goes. You get severe newsroom cuts, oftentimes taking longtime (and higher paid) vets first.
Suddenly, you have rookie reporters with little institutional knowledge reporting on events. And while they might get the superficial basics right, they don’t understand the bigger picture, the history that led up to the current events, and thus fail to connect the dots in a meaningful way for the reader.
They also miss the Story Behind The Story and are left reporting tepid briefs which only further accelerate the loss of interest in the newspaper.
And without enough soldiers in the field, you have more reporters struggling to cover too many beats. Well, you can’t cover several beats with the same kind of quality. It’s impossible. Good reporting is about more than just being there as the news breaks. It’s about developing sources and learning the beat and the players involved. It can take years to master your beat. Many papers are treating reporters like interchangeable cogs in a machine, plugging them wherever they can with little regard to their talent and their strengths.
And without enough reporters, you have more non-local wire stories and less investigative pieces, which are very VERY time intensive. With less investigative pieces, the paper has less ability to hold those in power responsible.
And while some folks would like to believe that newspapers aren’t necessary and welcome the “brave new world” of blogging, I think their excitement is sad. People are so excited to find “Free Content” and dismiss the importance of their local papers.
They fail to see that their lack of support for their local newspaper could hurt them in the end.
Few blogs provide the kind of necessary checks and balances needed to keep the politicians in place. Sure, you have some effective national blogs, but where newspapers are most influential – at the local level, it is nearly impossible to do a quality job covering the news properly without some way to fund it. Once again, it comes to advertising (or SOME source of funding) and putting soldiers on the field.
The people in power have been waiting for this moment for a long time. To finally be able to do what they want to do without anyone looking too closely. Reporters are too busy chasing their tails to spend time delving into issues of great importance. You can guarantee that as journalism declines, corruption will grow more widespread.
Of course if it isn’t reported online, it might take some people a while to figure out just how badly they’ve been screwed.
I wanted more from Dave (doesn’t everyone?):
Hi Dave – Thank you so much for your professional perspective. Your comment could spawn any number of spin-off posts; it’s that meaty. And the pain behind your words for the demise is heartbreakingly evident. Nothing takes the place of the morning paper with a cup of coffee, does it? That’s why Pete and I still subscribe to the Star Tribune, even though we grit our teeth with every read. And we deeply miss the quality writers who no longer grace its pages.
I do think lower advertising revenue is a partial result of editorial policy, though, too. Non-political example: Even in the real estate boom, our local paper was consistently running stories about how scary real estate agents were and how you should sell your house yourself to save money (even though negotiating the process is a nightmare in our highly-regulated state). It’s no wonder that institutional advertising from that sector declined long before the market did. Why would I want to spend precious advertising dollars when in the next page the reporting regularly generalizes that I’m superfluous, unethical, and most certainly not worthy of my fees?
You’re right about back story, history and context. It’s appalling that younger or newer reporters don’t know it, or have access to it.
What I’d like to see is something along the lines of, “Yep, we lean liberal (or conservative). Deal with it.” Instead, there is a pervasive facade of political objectivity that insults the reader’s intelligence. Example: my local paper’s polling organ, the Minnesota Poll, whose samplings are skewed to the point of little to no relationship with electorate demographics. Please, we’re not as stupid as we may seem. Sometimes we can actually discern the agenda in the first read!
You eloquently state how important professionalism is, and how corners are cut nowadays. I’d be curious to know what you think of competency levels in recent J-School grads. And ultimately, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what needs to happen to reverse the death spiral, or do you think it’s too late?
Dave indulges my question:
Advertising is tricky business. All too often, newspapers cave to political pressure in order to put their advertisers’ (or friends of those advertisers) interests ahead of those of the readers. I didn’t work for such a paper, but I know all too well what goes on behind the scenes of those kinds of papers.
Most of the new crop of journalists I’ve met were competent enough. Some better than others, as is the case with all professions. Most of the failings I’ve seen have been at the higher levels (and I’m not talking about my paper here, which I had no problems with). Many of the journalists I’ve come to know complain constantly about the lack of resources available. Many of the people in charge overlook the importance of consistency in the newsroom and have reporters wasting their time chasing new technologies like Twitter, blogging and video blogging. I’m not saying these new technologies should not be embraced, but not at the expense of real journalistic work.
I don’t know what can be done to reverse the course of print journalism in general. I don’t think blogging will replace it, that’s for sure. If print journalism fails, there will be a huge void which will not ever be filled. I do feel that the only media outlets that will survive and prosper will be the ones which pay attention to hyperlocal issues which matter most. People can go online and find out national news from thousands of sources. But who brings you the news that REALLY matters? Your local paper. The biggest hurdle will be finding a way to pay for the bodies to do the work.
Because good work comes at a cost and someone has to pay. The question is WHO?
And far, FAR greater minds than mine are struggling with just that dilemma.
And Becky jumps in:
I was a journalist for 22+ years and Blogger Dad is exactly RIGHT about how things are and what has happened. However, it’s NOT the readership that is to blame. It’s the corporate owners. Instead of cutting profits and pouring the money into training, resulting in better stories, they cut corners, hired inexperienced and young reporters and let them “sink or swim” and skimped on training. As properties were bought and sold the seasoned reporters who were making the living wages were laid off and younger, cheaper graduates brought in.
Journalists have always been arrogant – believing that because they owned the barrels of ink they could control, and did control content and could and did decide what to print and when. When blogging began to gain a foot hold, journalists did not recognize what was happening and instead of seizing the opportunity and blogging themselves and owning the game – they took a different tactic – belittling and criticizing and trying to discredit bloggers. They worked hard for awhile trying to insist some sort of “certification” was needed before someone would “be allowed” to be a “citizen journalist/blogger” thus exposing their ignorance to the history of what “free press” really meant. Their only concern was controlling content and access and denying profits to others.
Craigslist kicked ass because THEY gave people what they wanted. ANY newspaper in the country could have done the same thing and buried Craigslist. But, as is often the case with disruptive innovation – no one took the threat seriously or moved to adapt until it was too late. Then, they didn’t act, they simply sat back and whined and bitched and looked for ways to sue him or shut him down. Ha!! They didn’t get it!! No one controls the internet and that was a concept they couldn’t wrap their ink-stained brains around. That is what would ultimately kill them. They continued to believe they were the biggest, baddest thing on the block until it was too late. Then bloggers came along and Matt Drudge and others starting breaking news. Gee….the public started paying attention because some damn fine bloggers were beating journalists at their own game AND making money at it.
Suddenly, with the internet and a computer ANYONE could write about anything they wanted. The chains were off, the slaves were free. Now the stories the local media covered up or ignored because it hurt advertising, or because they didn’t understand the complexity of it, or because the editor didn’t find the topic interesting or didn’t have any “art” that would sell the news hole, those stories were suddenly popping up online and readers scrambled to support them. Bloggers – both those who weren’t sure how to monetize their sites and those who did, grew – buoyed by the fact people were listening and paying attention. The best bloggers succeeded – as is wont to happen in a free market. And so it went. The internet grew and journalists ignored it even as their house continued to burn.
Bloggers were a disruptive innovation and old school journalists just didn’t get it. Their corporate puppet masters were still intent on controlling content, killing stories that would make them or their holdings look bad, whittling away at competent newsrooms and pushing the demise of intelligent reporting. Reporters who bucked the system, dug too deeply, spoke out too clearly or opposed the corporate culture were fired or blackballed.
Readers have ALWAYS clamored for news that is hyper-local, exposes local corruption and takes down the bad guy. But somewhere along the line editorial and advertising climbed into bed with each other and the mutant child twins of edivatorial and adveratorial were born. The line between was was editorial/advocacy/promotional was forever blurred as publishers – who preferred to cater to advertisers rather than explore new media and the internet and jump on the opportunity social media was providing – picked easy over hard.
What else could they do? The lazy SOB’s at the corporate level weren’t going to let go of profits and risk the HUGE amount of money advertising brought in until it was too late. They were simply GREEDY.
Even NOW, the media and journalists continue to blame the public, blame the internet, blame advertisers, blame the economy, blame everyone but themselves for the grave they dug for themselves. While they’re blaming and finger pointing and saying, “Oh, you’ll be sorry, you’ll be so sorry,” citizen journalists have taken it upon themselves to do and to learn as they go, about how to expose corruption.
The arrogance of journalists disgusts me. They think their degrees and title mean they’re the only ones who can think???!! Please. The best journalists of our time – like Tim Russert and others – didn’t have journalism degrees. They had a passion for truth and the backbone and balls to report it.
What you say blogger dad is true – and corruption will have a BRIEF heyday, but not much of one. The market is changing and social media, bloggers and citizen journalists are doing that. What do you think all those out of work journalists are going to do? Well – blog of course!!! Any GOOD journalist will carve a niche for themselves and find a following and thrive.
No….People ARE willing to support their local paper IF and ONLY IF it provides the kind of content they CAN’T get online. The problem is, the local papers aren’t doing that. So of course, in a capitalistic society the best innovators win. In Danville the citizen journalists have risen up to create a NEW newspaper by expanding their local shopper into a “real” newspaper because the local daily, a Media General newspaper, has cheated, lied and betrayed their trust. Read my blog about that: http://danvilleva.blogspot.com.
How sad, when the car dealers, real estate people and subscribers turn to a weekly classified and BEG for a real paper with local news that they can support….and the daily continues to flaunt its arrogance. No – the average newspaper DESERVES what it gets. If they’d own their greed, their arrogance and their poor quality, bite the bullet and do what they need to do instead of clinging to the “good old glory days” of what reporting meant – they’d thrive.
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