16 January 2009

New world, old media

We've all seen the figures. Newspaper circulation has been falling for years, as has viewership for broadcast news. The reasons are pretty widely understood, too: competition from more advanced technology (it's hard for classified ads to compete with Craigslist or E-Bay, while the internet has an obvious advantage in up-to-the-minute reporting of breaking news stories), and an MSM turning away from the serious, unbiased reporting of hard news which, they continue to proclaim, is what really separates them from us frivolous bloggers. (This posting is worth a read, including the comments.)

The only party that doesn't seem to grasp what's going on is the MSM themselves. There's not much that they could do about the technology issue, but where hard-news reporting is concerned, they seem too busy digging to notice they're in a hole.

During last year's election cycle, this became so blatant that pretty much everyone has stopped pretending media bias isn't a serious issue. One candidate, anointed early on as the media's favorite, got a free pass on the intensive investigative vetting that apirants to the Presidency must normally undergo, and now the country will be paying the price for that for a long time to come. If, in the first months of 2008, the media had shown as much diligence pursuing substantive issues like Rezko, Ayers, Wright, and the whole murky history of Obama's suspiciously-fast rise to prominence in one of the most notoriously-corrupt political cesspools in the US, as they did later on in rooting out trivia like whether Sarah Palin had ever been to Little Diomede or not, we'd be getting ready for Hillary's inauguration today. There was little effort to maintain even a pretense of objectivity, despite the lesson of Rathergate several years ago -- that bias and distortion are far easier to expose than they used to be.

They're still at it now, with MSM coverage of the Gaza operation being a blatant case in point. Almost every MSM story I've seen was so transparent in its bias that one wonders why they bother; for example, not a single MSM report I saw on the Israeli airstrike on the Palestinian university mentioned the fact that there was a bomb factory there (read this too). They seem to think it's still 1990 and they're still the only conduit for information into the mass public mind, so that any fact they don't mention will just vanish down the memory hole. (This, of course, was the main form that media bias took in the old days -- not blatant editorializing but simply omitting to report stories and facts that didn't fit the narrative they were pushing.)

On the internet, if you're willing to make a little effort, you can find coverage of any major story from every viewpoint. It's not hard. I knew about Rezko and the bomb factory and so on, as did anyone else who was paying attention. It's the people who still get all their information from the sites of the established newspapers and TV networks who don't know what's going on.

Aside from bias, the media are turning away from the seriousness and solidity which they still claim as their strong point. In most newspapers, most hard-news items are wire stories (usually also obtainable on the internet), not original reporting, the exception being local news. In mid-2007, when circumstances forced me to cut back expenses, I canceled my subscription to my own city's daily paper. Since then, the times when I've seen an issue have not inspired me to re-subscribe; half the time the headline story was some sports thing even when there was real news going on, and reporting was slanted to suit the paper's pet biases (pro-illegal-immigration, for example) just as much as the editorials were.

Meanwhile, where in the MSM can you find the kind of ongoing on-the-spot reporting that, for example, pure bloggers Michael Yon and Michael Totten have been providing from the Middle East? They certainly have a point of view, but who in the MSM doesn't? I don't think that either Michael would be dumb enough to think he could get away with just not mentioning that a university hit by an airstrike had a bomb factory in it.

Yes, in theory bloggers can say anything they choose and get away with it, and in theory this could be dangerous, but I think in practice not so much. Take, for example, the relentless efforts of so many PUMA bloggers to push the "Obama isn't a natural-born citizen" meme (explained here if you're not familiar with it). If there's anyone who has a predisposition to want to believe this story, it's surely me -- but even though I've read about it almost exclusively on the blogs that were pushing it, they've failed to convince me that it has any substance, because they can't produce any hard evidence to support it. Yes, there are people who will read only sources they agree with, and will believe only what they want to believe; but there have always been people like that, and they'll manage to live in a world of their own delusions regardless of what media are available.

Local newspapers still have an edge in reporting local news; there aren't wire stories about small-town elections, for example, so the newspaper itself has to actually report on such an event. But local bloggers covering local issues are on the rise as well.

If the MSM are heading for extinction, it's not exactly because they're dinosaurs in a changing world. The dinosaurs couldn't adapt fast enough. The MSM, by contrast, just aren't willing to make the effort.


Blogger Prash said...

What I am going to say maybe got nothing to do what you are talking about here...but still, I thought of sharing this info :

In Japan, what is so "in" is sms novels...ya people type novels in sms and publish them later. Of course the phrases are very short and not all stories are romantic, some really nasty stories (Japanese, mind you!) are there. Statistics shows that 80% readers of such novels are women.

How technology keeps the printing media thrive !

16 January, 2009 07:30  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

This certainly was an interesting piece Mr.Infidel...I am a little slow on some thing's so I had to read it a couple times to get the whole picture...which is good for me...I got to pick up a lil education. All these professional journalist's and blogger's are a little over my head to begin with. Some twist's get a little complex, especially trying to figure out the spin. And where their going with it. I only have been on this internet for less than a year, and still dont trust alot of thing's I read. But...I also noticed...that I rarely buy newspapers any more. I dont even get the zine subscription's that I did before. Not because of the economy or lack of money...but because...this internet seem's to provide me with much more of everything..and quickly...at only $40 a month. I look at this as a steal of a deal. I wonder sometimes how long it will be before we are milked for more thing's on this as far as cost's since it is relatively so cheap right now? thanx guy....

16 January, 2009 08:16  
Blogger concerned citizen said...

Having recently started working for the local newspaper & realizing some of the issues involved, I find your post interesting.

As a weekly small town newspaper, we are under siege by the internet media. I know you've seen our online competition. (The hated yellow journalist I've directed you to.) Unfortunately, as spurious as he is he does have an advantage. I've begged our editor to keep our online link up to date, as I know how convenient online newspapers can be. Small town weeklies like ours are not having as hard of a time as daily papers but it's still tough to compete with the internet & as more & more people get online it will only get tougher.

As far as biased news, I agree that people will see what they want anyway, but the internet is such a great medium of information that we all have the option of being able to do our own investigative reporting in many cases. At least being able to read both sides of the story.

16 January, 2009 14:03  

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