Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bad on the doorstep; couldn't take one more step

The other day (ironically, an online article) the current publisher of our daily newspaper "reached out" to readers to assure us that the paper "hears us." (In fact, he borrowed -- don't know if it was intentional but it was curious in its use -- one of POTUS' favorite little ditties -- the 'ol "We get it" exclamatory sentence.

While responding to reader feedback lamenting the lack of "good news" in the paper, the publisher "got" how readers felt this condition was a leading contributor to the decline of readership and civic engagement with the daily newspaper. Then comes the recent study by our friends at PEW chronicling how the once vaunted Journalistic reputation for accuracy have become sullied lo these last few years. (A little known fact: while desirable, finding the "truth" or "falsity" of a story has never been the overriding tenet of American journalism. It is accuracy that has long been the ultimate goal journalists seek. This will be "news" -- excuse the pun -- to most people who think getting out the truth is the primary goal; it was for me when I learned it.)

The decline of "Traditional" news in the face of the Online world shouldn't necessarily lead to the public smackdown journalism is getting (see recent PEW research on People & The Press).

Here’s a hint, Einsteins. It’s the product, not the format, that’s REALLY hastening mainstream media's decline and the profession's abysmal sad stature. Aside from News and Politics, what modern human endeavors can blame their demise on their audience/market rather than the enterprise itself?

  • "What do you mean you don't want healthcare? We're trying to get you free healthcare you rubes! Why are you fighting us; we're trying to give you something for nuthin'?"

Well, maybe: a) not as many as you thought want what you are selling, and/or b) maybe they want the product but don't care for the brand you're selling.

  • "People just aren't interested in the news anymore." "Folks don't care about the vaunted journalistic profession; we're having to become 'entertainers' to get people to watch/listen/read." “FOX is evil.” “Rush’s dittoheads don’t think.” “Glenn Beck’s army of robots.” “Oh woe is me!”

Whose fault was the Edsel? The consumers who hated the ugly thing or the Ford execs for green-lighting the loser? Like the government, have the media considered that maybe it’s THEIR product that's weak, needs to be improved or re-thought and not lay all the blame on consumers?

Other businesses have to face changing their products, why should the news be different?

[Answer--"news" purists can't stand the fact that they have operate as a business. Theirs is a higher calling, a Constitutionally protected role. Unlike, say free healthcare. Some in the media would probably be happy to take a government pay level salary to do what they do if it meant they could be free of the pesky "free market" thing that forces their company to turn a profit. But I digress.]

And when the media does make changes and things don’t improve (think CNN, or the disappearing newpaper sector), is it because the market is wrong or the changes/"improvements” made were off the mark?

Here's what I ask my "news" buddies:

When you cover a story about a half glass of milk, and you decide to write how it’s half-empty, you have made a biased decision to cover it in that way. Does that mean a story written about the same glass being half-full is wrong, erroneous, or “slanted” any more than your point of view?

It shouldn't. Both reports are "accurate" in that the glass is half-filled.

For far too long, the consumer has only been told about the half-empty point of view, even though some of them KNEW there must be a half-full side of the story.

All FOX has done is to report the other story left untouched by their competitors (i.e. the glass is half-full). People can – and do -- get the reports on the half-empty from some other place (MANY other places).

And that's the reason the FOX is eating your lunch.