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News Failure: Getting It Wrong, Setting It Right

A staff blog at the Christian Science Monitor, Patchwork Nation, has an entry by Dante Chinni that is interesting. It doesn't tell you much that one couldn't (or hasn't) already correctly presume, but it's still pretty good and certainly interesting. I wish he'd taken the following graph to its logical conclusion, however.

How you see Sen. Barack Obama (change agent or inexperienced youth) or Sen. John McCain (maverick Republican or President Bush's heir) may depend on where you go for news. There are points and counterpoints on the Web and on the radio, as well as on cable news - where the approaches and viewpoints are becoming increasingly different.

What the above paragraph should do, particularly the first sentence, is send a wave of shame and embarrassment throughout American news media circles. For it is a public excoriation that should sting like no other rebuke to broadcast and print journalists and editors alike.

Before we look at why this is, precisely, let's jump to Chinni's conclusion, which misses the mark and likely for the same reasons journalists and editors will fly by the graph above without notice.

If nothing else, the numbers at least suggest that different kinds of people look to different kinds of outlets to shape their worldviews.

Ummmm.... No. Not exactly. You see, peoples' worlviews are already formed. (Yes, in large part due to a news media culture relentlessly seeking to form them.) They are not choosing their news network in order to 'form' their world view, they are choosing it to 'validate' it. There is an entire universe of unsubtle difference. That's why lunatics watch MSNBC, liberals watch CNN and conservatives watch the FOX News Channel.

The news media, for at least an entire generation, has so miserably failed in maintaining objectivity that the entire paradigm has been turned on its head. And instead of turning on the news that is best produced (in order to learn and thus shape one's worldviews), viewers and readers choose and consume either the news outlet that most agrees with their already formed view, or the one that angers them the least in its presentation.

It's that simple. And this conclusion can rarely be reached by someone so close to the moving parts - which is why one would be wrong to throw a barb at Dante Chinni here. It's kind of hard to judge the new roof and gutters from inside the house. He got it right, but simply has the cause backwards.

If the news media were truly impartial, reporting the facts and events sans personal interjection of interpretations, then people would be going to their network of choice to 'form' their views. Real news, one must concede, when properly covered and presented, is pretty dry, which translates into kind of boring. With many competitors out there covering the same events, the event cannot be left to attract the reader/viewer. A differentiation is deemed necessary - and this is where it gets sloppy and the news ceases to be straight reporting (though not exclusively because of this).

With survival being based upon viewership numbers, which in turn dictate ad rates and revenues, boring is the kiss of death for a news department or news network (especially cable news nets). And so, with today's competitive productions, the line between news and entertainment blur, which affords for the intentional or accidental interjection of personal worldview or opinion into what is commonly referred to as 'hard news.'

Some take it to the extreme and abandon nearly all journalistic principles in the quest for viewership numbers, such as MSNBC's failed flirtation with a political commentator (Chris Matthews) and an unstable former sportscaster (Keith Olbermann) to sit as anchors for the national conventions of both major parties. Even MSNBC's own normally loyal far-left viewership voted them out. Don't think that either of them would have been removed on journalistic principles had their numbers performed.

And this is the state of our news media - and the resultant news consumer base - after over a generation of professional journalistic neglect and dereliction of duty. Let's face up to this with a bit of intellectual honesty and clarity here, regardless of one's political - and thus news source - preference.


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Comments (4)

after over a generat... (Below threshold)

after over a generation of professional journalistic neglect and dereliction of duty


The excuse that the internet killed the newspaper industry is just that, an excuse, used primarily by lazy print media types that won't admit to the obvious.

David Halberstam wrote a ground breaking (and in the domestic auto industry, earth shaking) account of a similar phenomena in Detroit. It was aptly titled The Reckoning.

This book decsribed how lazy thinking and a phobia of diverse thought and creativity led to the U S auto industry's surrender of over 35% market share to the Japanese and other foreign manufacturers.

The legacy media in this country adds to their obituary daily.

The media finally gave up r... (Below threshold)

The media finally gave up railing against the internet denizens. That didn't score them any points when the politicians they defended or covered for started posting diaries at Kos.

Must beg to differ on a cou... (Below threshold)

Must beg to differ on a couple of key points here Mr. Shippert. re:

conservatives watch the FOX News Channel

Actually, FNC has a wider democrat demographic than the other al qeda propagandists you mentioned. Check it out. re:

With survival being based upon viewership numbers, which in turn dictate ad rates and revenues, boring is the kiss of death for a news department or news network (especially cable news nets).

How many times must they pull the door straight into their own noses before they learn that they are hated by most regular Americans? cndnc and mslsd have been radically anti-American forever, what would make you think they have ever cared about ratings or being profitable? They're leftists, they don't go for that bourgeois, neocon, American crappola. The only reason for dropping the marxist brothers was the simple fact that even marxists don't like it when they (finally) realize the laughter is being directed at them.

Steve - while I agree with ... (Below threshold)

Steve - while I agree with you in point about your post, I am going to disagree with you regarding the ousting of Matthews/Olbermann from hosting political coverage. I do not believe that it was the audience that voted them out but more so NBC's fear that these two men were becoming a bigger story than the one they were "reporting" on. Matthews & Olbermanns numbers are up - it is the negative press that NBC can not afford.

And while Mr. Ducharme disagrees with you regarding who's watching Fox - Fox very well may have more Dem. viewers - but that is because their viewership by in large is larger than the other two cable nets. However, I am going to guess that Fox does attract more Republicans than the other two - just look at the ratings for the DNC v. the RNC - CNN took the DNC and Fox took the RNC - and note both beat the big 3 Networks respectively on the final nights of the conventions.






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