Must the old media die for the new media to flourish?

Summary:   The mainstream media is dying to a large extent of self-inflicted wounds.  Journalists instead blame a wide range of other factors, following our new national motto: “It’s not MY fault!”

Here is a look at our changing news media by an expert.  It’s worth a look, as the media is a major force re-shaping America:

  • A New Horizon for the News“, Michael Massing (contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review), New York Review of Books, 24 September 2009

Massing illustrates the deep roots of the crisis facing the mainstream media — by what he ignores more than by what he describes.

The American news business today finds itself trapped in a grim paradox. Financially, its prospects have never seemed bleaker. By some measures, the first quarter of 2009 was the worst ever for newspapers, with sales plunging $2.6 billion. Last year, circulation dropped on average by 4.6% on weekdays and 4.8% on Sundays.

… Yet amid all this gloom, statistics from the Internet suggest that interest in news has rarely been greater. … The MTV generation, known for its indifference to news, has given way to the Obama generation, which craves it, and for an industry long reconciled to the idea of its customers dying off, the reengagement of America’s young offers a rare ray of hope.

How could the financial fortunes of a $50 billion–plus industry decline so swiftly while its product remains so prized? The most immediate explanation is the collapse of what has long been the industry’s economic base: advertising. …

The fall-off in ad revenues has been compounded by another phenomenon that newspaper executives would rather not discuss: their own greed. The relentless stress placed on acquisition and consolidation, which dominated the industry for decades, helped drain money out of newsrooms and into the pockets of shareholders. It also shifted the locus of decision-making from locally based citizens to distant corporate boards.

When it comes to mismanagement, then, the newspaper business seems in a class with Detroit. Unlike GM, though, newspapers offer a product that consumers still value.

Massing ignores the other explanation:  the US auto industries and newspapers suffer the same problem — consumers want news and automobiles, just not the products US companies offer.  His entire analysis crashes on this error.

As shown by this data from a Pew Research report of 2 October 2009:  55% said the “press gets facts straight” in 1985, only 29% agree in 2009.  This is a more serious problem than anything Massing mentions.


The cause of this crashing credibility is obvious to even a casual observer.   As described in this excerpt from “Call Fox“, James Taranto , in the online Wall Street Journal, 2009 — “How come Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart keep scooping the New York Times?”

Last week we noted that Jill Abramson, managing editor of the New York Times, had acknowledged her paper was “a beat behind” on the story of Van Jones, the Obama administration’s so-called green-jobs czar, who among other things once signed a 9/11 “truther” conspiracy petition. Times readers did not learn about Jones until he had already become the Obama administration’s former so-called green-jobs czar. Abramson pointed out that long before the Times reported the story, “it had been discussed on talk radio, Fox News and other venues.”

Our conclusion: “If you want to get the news ahead of the Times, watch Fox News Channel.”

On Friday, Fox delivered on Abramson’s promise by scooping the Times again. Early that evening, the network sent an email alert: “Census Bureau severs all ties with ACORN after hidden-camera videos expose 4 of group’s workers advising ‘pimp,’ ‘prostitute’ on subverting the law.” (Here’s the full story.) The Obama administration had invited Acorn (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to “partner” with the bureau as “advocates for census cooperation and participation,” as the bureau described it in its Dear John letter.

Readers of Saturday’s Times got only a short (225-word) report from the Associated Press, which began: “The Census Bureau on Friday severed its ties with Acorn, a community organization that Republicans have accused of voter-registration fraud.” It made no mention of the hidden-camera sting–although that was because of the Times’s editing. The original AP dispatch, filed contemporaneously with the Fox alert, was twice as long. Among the material the Times cut was this:

ACORN fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute. Fox News Channel broadcast excerpts from the video on Thursday. On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN’s Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman’s income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as “performance artist.”

Those two employees had worked in Baltimore (the other two were in Washington), and a story in Friday’s Baltimore Sun reported that the investigators purportedly planned to traffic in child sex slaves:

The video depicts a man and a scantily dressed female partner visiting the Charles Village office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, where they appear to ask two employees about how to shield their work from state and federal tax requirements. The supposed pimp also appears to ask the employees how to conceal underage girls from El Salvador brought into the country illegally to work for him.

“If they don’t have Social Security numbers, you don’t have to worry about them,” the employee says.

The Sun noted that the exposé, by 20-year-old Hannah Giles and 25-year-old James O’Keefe, was published on, a conservative Web site run by Andrew Breitbart, before being aired on Glenn Beck’s Fox program.

It was a busy week for Beck and Breitbart. On Friday they claimed another victory when, as reported, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that it was “reassigning” Yosi Sergant, its communications director. On his Sept. 1 program, Beck had aired portions of a tape from an August conference call with artists, in which Sergant exhorted them to push the administration’s agenda. The call was first reported on Big Hollywood, another Breitbart site, by a participant, Patrick Courrielche, who provided Beck the tape on which Sergant said this:

I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment. There’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service. Then my task would be to apply your artistic, creativity community’s utilities and bring them to the table.

Sergant also told the artists: “We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government, what that looks like legally. . . . We are participating in history as it’s being made. So bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely and we can really work together [to] move the needle and to get stuff done.”

Here is a reprint in full of the Times’s coverage of the Sergant story: ” “.

A company that frequently passes over such stories — government-funded aid to sex slavers! — is not in the news business.  Soon it might no longer be in business, period:  “U.S. Newspaper Circulation Falls 10%“, New York Times, 26 October 2009.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the following:

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Some posts about the mainstream media:

  1. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
  2. Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable, 30 April 2008
  3. The myth of media pessimism about the economy, 13 June 2008
  4. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  5. “The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism”, 23 December 2008
  6. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 18 February 2009
  7. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009
  8. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  9. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009
  10. We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information, 3 June 2009 
  11. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  12. The perfidy of ABC News (tentative conclusion on a breaking story), 18 June 2009
  13. Are we blind, or just incurious about important news?, 6 July 2009
  14. We know nothing because we read newspapers, 12 October 2009


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

10 thoughts on “Must the old media die for the new media to flourish?”

  1. Video of the BS Center on ESPN: In part two of their epic podcast, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman drop the gloves as they discuss sportswriting, newspapers and the Internet. 13 March 2009 {FM note: no part one appears in the archive}

    Don’t question the source (ESPN), it’s a really good discussion on this issue..

  2. I also question your general thesis and whether that’s healthy for the country. Glenn Beck is an unashamed conservative, so he approaches all news with a conservative slant. Just as Keith Olbermann for MSNBC is an unashamed liberal, so he approaches all news with a liberal slant. These people, from previous experience, do not so much report the news as much as they report the news that furthers their world view (which is a legitimate criticism of newspapers and media outlets in general, but at least most of them attempt to be neutral while for people such as Beck and Olbermann, that is not the case. For example, if I see a report on crime on Southern California and it’s on Lou Dobbs’ show, I know exactly what direction he is going to take it. So the problem does not matter as much as the direction the person wants to go with the problem. In the “newspapers are dying” story, they also said CNN’s ratings are going down. I think people would agree that in the American cable news spectrum, Fox News tends to the right, MSNBC increasingly tends to the left, and CNN was somewhere in the middle.

    News gets worse for the mainstream media“, Politico, 28 October 2009 — Excerpt:

    “With the proliferation of media across platforms these days, there’s less shared knowledge among people, who are increasingly heading to niche outlets for information. At the same time, there’s a large appetite for the new media world where the MSM gatekeepers no longer hold as much clout, and “he said, she said” journalism gives way to strong point of view. Just last night, NYU hosted a debate among prominent journalists on the subject: “Good Riddance to Mainstream Media.”.

    And in today’s cable news universe, Alterman said, “politics without a slant, without a point of view, is interesting to very few people.” That’s probably one thing that the Nation writer and Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly agree on.

    O’Reilly, host of the top-rated cable news show, told an audience last week that networks need to give viewers “a product that is entertaining and informative.” As for his 8 p.m. rival on CNN, O’Reilly said: “Nobody watches Campbell Brown. You have to evolve if you want to survive in the commercial world. If you are going to do a straight newscast in prime time, you are going to lose.”

    Brown is losing not only to O’Reilly and a partisan on the left, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, but also to Nancy Grace, who hosts a more tabloidy show at the same time on sister network HLN.”

    So here we have news sources that are deliberating aiming to incite their audience in an effort to keep them instead of providing the news and letting the audience make up their mind. Isn’t that how the Spanish American War was started? I don’t see how this can be good for the country’s health. I’ll be more than happy to share a few websites that are shown from exactly one world view, no more and no less, and if that’s the only source of news people have with a partisan viewpoint and no information source that even attempts to be neutral, this country is f*cked come 20 years. Honestly, the guy you cited said “he’s at war with the President” and he came on the air with a flack helmet and talking like a general. What’s to say one of his “not all there in the head” viewers will actually think we’re at war and will attempt to take out said person that’s at war with America? He’ll be “a national hero like the guy that killed Yitzhak Rabin.” “I killed him for the good of the country.” For the record, I thought liberals were acting the same way late in Bush’s presidency.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The “thesis” of this post is that the problems of the news media are to a large extent their own fault. As good 21st C Americans, instead they blame a wide range of other factors (Our new national motto: “It’s not MY fault”).

    “I also question your general thesis and whether that’s healthy for the country”

    Nothing in your comment is relevant to my “thesis”. This post does not discuss whether “that” (??) is healthy for the country.

  3. FM: “The ‘thesis’ of this post is that the problems of the news media are to a large extent their own fault.

    Yeah, and regardless of who created it, I don’t see that as being good.

    FM: “As good 21st C Americans, instead they blame a wide range of other factors.

    Yes. Although no one is still able to monetize the internet. How much money do you make for making this website if you put it in money per hour. If you did it entirely for money, would it even be worth it? I don’t know your personal circumstances but you most likely just do this for fun because the subject interests you.

    The show you list as having scooped the New York Times is Fox News. Fox News is a newspaper/multimedia company, NewsCorp owned by Rupert Murdoch. It owns the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and several publications in the UK and Australia. And they’re currently looking into the future with horror for both multimedia and newspapers because state-supported news organizations make information free and then they can’t charge for it over the internet. So even if the old media disappears, the new media still sees issues. Newsweek. The Times.

    He even attacked Google for not paying for searching for their content.

    The next decade will be very interesting.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to insult you. I just found your post short and trite. You say newspapers going away are their own fault. Okay, it’s a fine thesis, what will be the reprecussions of that? Is there any future at all for neutral news delivered to me, or will our country go back to the late 19th-century politics where all news pieces were owned by Republican and Democratic party interests which were obviously biased and elite interests looking out for their bank accounts and from that era we got the robber barons, Jim Crow laws, the Johnson County War, the Spanish American War, the Election of 1876, etc. You say after all you’re “a discussion about geopolitics, broadly defined, from an American’s perspective.” I’m just offering you some constructive criticism to be better and offer a more illuminating viewpoint than “look at these idiots, hope they burn”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You write a long comment that has nothing to do with my post, and call my work “short and trite.” Perhaps you should “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

    “I just found your post short and trite. … Okay, it’s a fine thesis, what will be the reprecussions of that?”

    What a bizarre comment. First, what makes this trite? As in “repeated too often; overfamiliar through overuse” — a slur that can be thrown at almost any analysis.

    Second, to call this post “short” is nuts. It’s 1400 words. I’ve read the average internet post is aprox 250-500 words (e.g., Matthew Yglesias). That’s logical, as traffic drops off rapidly after roughly 1,000 words. Which means one can either cover a broad area, but only in a shallow fashion. Or discuss in depth, but with a tight focus. Folks like you criticze the first as too shallow, the second as too narrow. I invite such folks to write their own blogs.

    Third, people of sense handle their questions in one of 2 ways.
    (a) Look to the end at the “For more information from the FM site” section. Clicking on the “Information & disinformation, the new media & the old” takes you to a list of articles. Under “about new media” you will see a link to A new news media emerges for our new world, unseen and unexpected. Which explains that America probably will do quite well under a new information collection and dissemination regime, IMO.
    (b) They ask a polite question in the comments, such as “What do you see as the effects of the evolution of our news media?

    ” from that era we got the…”

    To attribute any or all of these things to the existance of a partisan news media is … unusual. Can you point to any historians who draw such a causual connection? The UK and Europe have a partisan news media, and seem to do quite well.

  4. >The “thesis” of this post is that the problems of the news media are to a large extent their own fault.

    If thats the thesis then the example is pretty strange – one mainstream news organization (NY Times) with declining credibility is scooped by another mainstream news organization (Fox news) also with declining credibility.

    The major news organizations saw themselves as news packagers and distributors. That is why they got in trouble. The cost of distribution collapsed. That is not the fault of the journalists.

    To find a new rational to exist they are trying everything from celebrity to outrage. In most countries those that will survive will be the ones that improve their quality of analysis. That a large segment of the American public considers “improved” to be pandering to their narrow world view no matter what the reality is, is just a local issue.
    FM reply: I disagree that FOX News is just “another mainstream news organization.” It is a disruptive entrant to the news biz — breaking the rules with its hot anchorbabes, explicit (rather than hidden) political slant, and coverage of the “undernews” (stories hidden by the MSM).

    I use “disruptive” in the commonplace sense, but FOX News also meets (loosely) Clayton M. Christensen’s definition of a disruptive innovation.

  5. But soft! Someone DID get it right! “Cory Doctorow live in Metaplace at 6am!”, Raphy’s Website, 27 October 2009 — Excerpt:

    Cuppycake: First question
    Cuppycake: You are a huge proponent of giving away electronic forms of your books. Can you talk about why?
    doctorow: Well, there’s a few pieces to that
    doctorow: First: it makes good commercial sense. Ebooks are poor substitutes for print books, so giving away ebooks is more apt to entice someone to buy than to replace a print book (or as Tim O’Reilly sez, “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”

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