Every so often I take a little time to talk about the slow death of traditional media
I don’t gloat over it. I loved newspapers. I left a proposed comfortable life in the academy to be a journalist. But times change.
And why is this even important? Because many people, including older people, still believe that traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio, TV) are in some sense the “real” news. Even when they aren’t. Even when they are obviously not up to the job. When social or political or artistic correctness prevents them from reporting plain facts.
Today, many look for trusted sources apart from traditional “news” media, while remaining aware that older folk especially still believe in those sources. So tact is definitely called for, especially when dealing with the sources’ deficiencies. Here are some things that might usefully be said.
First, when discussing any problems, we should note that we didn’t invent them. The deficiencies are openly discussed in many venues. For example, at the centrist Brookings Institute
Now, however, in the first years of the 21st century, accelerating technological transformation has undermined the business models that kept American news media afloat, raising the possibility that the great institutions on which we have depended for news of the world around us may not survive.
Second, it matters who’s paying for us to hear such and so. Also from Brookings,
… in the digital era, which has made it relatively simple to target advertising in very specific ways, a big metropolitan or national newspaper has much less appeal. Internet companies like Google and Facebook are able to sort audiences by the most specific criteria, and thus to offer advertisers the possibility of spending their money only on ads they know will reach only people interested in what they are selling. So Google, the master of targeted advertising, can provide a retailer selling sheets and towels an audience existing exclusively of people who have gone online in the last month to shop for sheets and towels. This explains why even as newspaper revenues have plummeted, the ad revenue of Google has leapt upward year after year—from $70 million in 2001 to an astonishing $50.6 billion in 2013. That is more than two times the combined advertising revenue of every newspaper in America last year.
Nuff said. So increasingly, newspaper advertisers count on their readers not to use the Internet much.
Third, some things don’t change even if others (who’s paying and who’s listening?) do: As one columnist puts it, sensationalism isn’t just a feature; it’s the traditional media’s main business:
Sensationalizing events is what the media does best. There may even be a sense in which it can be said that sensationalism is intrinsic to mass media. Sensationalism serves the interests of two groups of people: media personalities and the politicians with whom they collude.
Both the reputations and wallets of media figures are likely to inflate as long as they continue creating “news” that arrests the attention of citizens who find it increasingly difficult to attend to anything for very long. And the politicians on whose behalf journalists and commentators advocate (in one way or another) are well served by the manufacturing of “crises.” This, to be sure, is a bi-partisan phenomenon: Virtually every politician—particularly at the national level—agrees wholeheartedly with Rahm Emmanuel’s belief that a “good crisis” is something that must never be permitted to “go to waste.
They do sort of report serious problems. But, if they have nothing at stake but lobbying for the good opinion of folk in power (because we all have many options for news now), they mightn’t explain clearly how the details matters to us little folk.
Ongoing newsroom cuts, studio cuts, and benefits cuts (which can affect hiring) mean that traditional media are no longer hiring the best and brightest. They are often staffed by people who will ride a scandal to death long after their audience are weary of it.
Did you know for example, that Toronto (Canada) mayor Rob Ford was witnessed snorting crack? Possibly. It went the rounds of North America.
But did you know that by most taxpayers’ standards, he was nonetheless a good mayor? :
That may not match the images making headlines now, but it doesn’t surprise all of us who have seen him taking in troubled teenagers and giving them a bed for the night, feeding them and putting them on the right track.
He has only spoken about this work recently, in an attempt to counter the wave of horribly negative publicity.
His opponent in the original mayoralty race admitted to a drug problem too. Did you know that? Perhaps you guessed that there might be two sides to the story of Rob Ford, who is now fighting cancer, not just the relentless opposition of legacy media. But those who attend only to those legacy media mightn’t know there are two sides to the story. Only if they choose to print the other side. This is less likely now than ever, simply due to the general attrition of the whole system.
Nothing says it more than this: The Times of London is blasting typewriter sound effects to get journalists into the mood.
That train, she left the station a while back.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.