Oh, the things you see in the newspapers. I saw a link to a piece in the Aspen Times that caught my attention, so I clicked through to take a look. Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor (currently lost on HDNet) was talking about the current shape of journalism.
Dan was in town at the Aspen Institute, as part of the “McCloskey Speaker Series.” His big point? Journalism is in pretty bad shape (no duh…) and according to the article, he believes that media reform should be an “immediate national priority.”
Okay, let’s accept his basic premise as a truism. Things are bad in the world of news. Dan pointed to the “dumbing down and sleezing up of news,” while also noting the decline of newspapers in the U.S. When Elvis died, it was on the CBS Evening News, but it wasn’t the lead. Michael Jackson’s untimely passing led the current form of that newscast for weeks.
One of the things that I usually wrote during my last year at CNN was the intro to the daily entertainment report in our newscast. The segment was pretty much an opportunity to promote that evening’s “Showbiz Tonight” on Headline News, sorry, they call that network “HLN” now. Cross-promotion is not a bad thing, but it’s not exactly using news time to promote “Meet the Press,” or “Face the Nation.”
Anyway, Rather, who left CBS under a cloud a few years ago (and is currently suing the network), tossed out the idea that the president (of the United States) should start a commission on public media and independent reporting.
Credit to Dan for creative thinking, but really now, do we really need a bunch of appointed (and self-important) stuffed shirts sitting behind a big ol’ table covered in green felt, listening to professors, pundits and practitioners go on about what’s needed to fix what journalism has become?
I had posted the article to my Facebook page, which drew a tongue-in-cheek response from a friend of mine who is now an attorney, but who, in a previous life, was a television news producer. He said:
I have to agree… lets just go ahead, let government now OFFICIALLY run the media, which only makes official what has been happening now… we’ll rename the whoe thing… hmmmm… Pravda!
Okay, it’s not all that bad, but shouldn’t we be at the point where we accept the fact that journalism may not be exactly what it was 20, 30 or 50 years ago. It’s an organic thing that adapts and adjusts to what people want and what people can do.
At one point, information that appeared in newspapers was specifically colored by the view that ownership wanted presented. Making sure news is reasoned, responsible and balanced is a relatively new concept.
That model, presented in print and broadcast, isn’t as attractive to consumers as it once was. People are responding to advocacy and point-of-view coverage, which may be why Fox News and MSNBC do better in prime than the down-the-middle kids at CNN (except for you Lou Dobbs!).
When one delivery system fails, it’s because people have usually turned to another. It then becomes incumbent for the old form to adapt or perish. Newspapers found a way to survive when radio came along. Radio news pretty much disappeared when TV started growing, but that didn’t kill radio, it just became something else. Of course, the buggy whip folks didn’t know what to do when the car rolled up.
Rather calls the Internet one of the “great innovations,” although he worried about the lack of fact-checking and accountability.
Fair enough. But it’s up to the marketplace. People will decide whether they really want news and information. If they do, they’ll decide where they want to get it from. It may be from John Stewart. It may be from headlines online. If they don’t like the quality, they will turn to avenues that provide what they want.
It’s not about propping up businesses with models that no longer attract customers or figuring out where they went wrong. Especially not by the government. It’s currently messing up enough archaic business models without taking on journalism. Rather, it’s about seeing what develops to bring people the information they want or need. If it’s completely different that what we’re used to, Dan, that’s the way it is.