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