Posted by: bkivey | 18 January 2010

Journalism: The decline and fall

Over the past several years much has been made of the declining readership of the traditional print media, primarily in newspapers. Many papers have folded and many more, perhaps most, have laid off scores of employees. There has been much hand-wringing over the perceived decline in access to information, mostly by those in the journalism profession.

I am among those that hardly pick up a paper anymore, and I used to read several papers daily. I would submit that the reasons I stopped reading the daily paper are the same as those of most people: style and objectivity.

It has become apparent to me that the current journalistic style is what I call victim-oriented. Take a story, any story, and the journalistic style book dictates that:

  1. The story should focus on a victim, preferably female or a member of an ethnic or social minority. Failing that, find a statistical outlier such as a person suffering from a deadly and expensive disease, and present that situation as ‘normal’ or something that could happen to you.
  2. Find an oppressor. If you can use a white male you have struck pay dirt, but a large corporation or social disparity will work too. The oppressor cannot ever be government, because we all know that government is never a bad thing.
  3. Never acknowledge that the ‘victim’ in the story might be where they are through their own actions or that their experiences are a temporary condition.
  4. Either imply or overtly state that some sort of government intervention is necessary to ‘right’ the wrong that the story is reporting.

As for objectivity, I would guess that many papers lost readership as a result of their unabashed and quite transparent support of Barack Obama. Whatever one may think of Mr. Obama, the newspapers lost all claims to objectivity and the myth of the adversarial press with their fawning coverage of Mr. Obama’s campaign and his presidency. Intellectually honest people, no matter their political preference, realize that they are ill-served by a press with such obvious bias.

There is a place and a market for biased media, but not for those who claim to be objective while so obviously engaged in partisan practices. Americans have little tolerance for hypocrisy and in this regard the marketplace has spoken.

I suspect that the new business model for newspapers will be to go online and charge a subscription fee. The Wall Street Journal has been doing this for some time and the online subscription fee is about half of the print edition. There are those that oppose this idea in principle because they think that for some reason information should be free. This concept mystifies me. If you are providing a product or a service you should be compensated for your time and effort. If you’re not providing a product or service that people want, you don’t get paid and you go out of business.

There are those in the journalism industry that support some sort of government support for newspapers. They apparently are blithely ignorant of the fact that any business that requires government support is a business that is not viable in the marketplace. Rather than change the business model to adapt to changing conditions, they would rather forcibly take money from people to support their archaic vision of a world as they think it should be rather than as it is.

 Unemployment Watch

I do read the local Sunday paper, mostly for the Opinion section. In the 17 January edition a Donna Minnes writes a letter to the editor berating people for not supporting the tax measures on the ballot (I opined on these here and here) because they only affect ‘the rich’ who don’t ‘pay their fair share’ (didn’t someone once observe that a lie repeated loudly and often enough becomes truth?). Ms. Minnes states that unemployment in Oregon, currently eighth highest in the nation at 11.1%, will go even higher if the tax measures fail.

Okay, Ms. Minnes, I have duly noted that observation and will see where the unemployment rate is in a few months.


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