Basically, the problems of journalism boil down to one: utilty. People are willing to pay for information that’s useful to them. This is why The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and Reuters are still profitable and other media orgs are going through reorganization, restructuring or out of business.
If journalists published more relevant news, the other challenges would be easy. Instead, we get more of the same sensationalist bullshit where the local papers try to outdo each other in portraying the gruesomeness of some crime and you turn on the TV news and same stories appear every night: fire, weather, crime, vehicular accident and “special reports” about the remote possibility that a common domestic appliance or accessory is deadly/connected to Satanism/could make the neighborhood attractive to minorities.
I recently had to cover the arraignment of a man accused of murdering his mother and grandmother. All the TV stations and tabloids were there, along with the local papers. After the arraignment concluded, I went outside the courtroom into the hall, hoping to ask the attorneys some questions about evidence and motives, etc. Instead, I was caught up in a human riptide and carried out of the courthouse as the camera crews competed among themselves to stick their cameras in the face of the suspect’s sister as she left.
Not only is this behavior extremely insensitive, it’s completely pointless. It added no information, contributed nothing to understanding and maybe got a few extra seconds of B-roll or whatever those mindless neanderthalls on TV call it. Had I been able to fight off the tide I would have discovered that even covering the procedings was just as pointless because of the way criminal court in Massachusetts works.
All the criminal cases start in district court, but only misdeamoners are tried there. Felonies, such as murder, have to get bumped up to superior court — but only after an indictment has been made by a Grand Jury. So until the indictment comes through the prosecution has to shuttle the thing through district court procedings because otherwise they would have to let him go. Even better, when it does get up to superior court the process starts all over with a new arraignment.
Head. Desk. Ow.
What’s really shocking about this great parade of idiocy that even Baldrick would find unbelievably stupid is that the state of political journalism is even worse.
The recent Cracked.com article 5 Ways to Spot a BS Political Story in Under 10 Seconds by David Wong described the problem pretty well. According to Wong, only 17 percent of politics stories are about policy, while the rest are targeted at people who view politics as entertainment. He writes ” … virtually all political news coverage is written to appeal to those people. They’re the most rabid ‘consumers’ of news, and their traffic is the most reliable, so the news is tailored to appeal to them.”
I disagree. They may have been the most rabid consumers of news at one point, but they’re not any more, which is why so much news targeted at them is produced — it’s editors desperate to catch a small slice of a shrinking pie, like how American car companies continued to make gigantic cars with the gas milage of a few feet per gallon despite the fact that less and less people were buying them.
Unfortunately, as business strategies go, that’s one of the worst. It didn’t work in the auto industry (twice!) and it’s not working in journalism.
The fact is that thanks to the Bush administration’s nigh-fascistic response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the yet-unresolved problems of network neutrality on the internet and its concomitant issues of online privacy concerns surrounding Google and Facebook, the continued economic problems facing the world and the apparent failure of people in government to agree on what’s for lunch much less a response to the country’s problems politics is being taken seriously by more and more people. We are starting to recognize that the decisions of 535 senile octogenarians have real consequences on our lives.
But as long as journalists keep trying to feed the public the same bullshit we will continue to lose money, continue to lose audience share to propaganda outlets like Russia Today and continue to be accused of being stooges in some New World Order conspiracy to brainwash the public.
The failure to provide relevant political journalism is an even worse trend, I think, then the tendency of political journalists to be stenographers for officials. Reporting uncritically can be problematic, but it’s better than reporting on irrelevant frivolity.