23 August 2009

The fall and rise of news

This DemWit post on the decline of the MSM led to a few thoughts.

Seriously, there's been a revolution going on in news gathering for some time. I haven't watched TV in over 15 years and I've never felt I was missing anything. My city's main daily paper seems to have some sports thing on the front page every other day, even when there's real news going on.

When the Iranian uprising broke, Andrew Sullivan and Iranian bloggers had minute-by-minute reports based on Twitter feeds from the scene as it was happening, while the MSM blithered on about tomato-throwing contests and Michael Jackson.

Bloggers like Michael Totten and Michael Yon have been reporting from the Middle East for years with a depth that the MSM seldom matched and never surpassed.

The MSM are becoming shallow and unserious, but that doesn't mean we can't find news if we really want it.

I think the question is, do our present resources do any worse of a job than what we had before with "professional" news?

It turns out that the MSM themselves have often had an agenda which subtly slanted their reporting, even though they claimed to strictly separate editorial content from reporting and supposedly kept their biases out of the latter. With the rise of blogs, it became possible to detect this and expose it with a speed and verifiability which had not been possible before -- see Rathergate, for example.

In the case of the Iranian uprising, everyone recognized that the Twitter reports from people on the ground were tentative and that any individual report might be inaccurate (the theocracy itself even created fake Twitter sources and fake reports). Nevertheless, thousands of people were giving eyewitness reports of the same events, and there were many different blogs reporting the same incidents; any attempt at distortion by the bloggers would have been immediately obvious. A person reading Andrew Sullivan and Saeed Valadbaygi would have had a much better sense of what was really going on than a person relying on MSM coverage of the same uprising.

We no longer have a few gatekeepers who decide what's news. We have millions of people reporting and passing along what interests them. Distortions are caught quickly. Within hours of Palin talking about "death panels", for example, bloggers had confirmed that there was no such thing in the actual bill, and provided links so readers could see for themselves.

Some people refuse to acknowledge when something which they accepted is disproven, and just continue to believe whatever fits their own prejudices -- but that has always been true.

Reporting has always had biases that distorted the news we got. I prefer to have those biases acknowledged upfront, as bloggers do, and to have the constant crosschecking that goes on now to expose misinformation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It turns out that the MSM themselves have often had an agenda which subtly slanted their reporting"

Yes, Infidel. That's one of the reasons for the newspapers' decline. I was just thinking about it this morning, reminiscing of the days when we started our Sundays with Chicago Tribune, for many, many years.

No more. We canceled our subscription when CT, even with its conservative slant, turned into just another rag, thanks to their new management team more interested in pushing ads than delivering the news. It seems to be the trend in newspapers, who are unable to compete with the Internet in the news delivery.

We don't miss it at all; although occasionally I wish we still had it, when we need paper to protect the floor from paint, or wrap Christmas ornaments, etc. :).

23 August, 2009 10:38  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Damn good point's ... I wonder about alot of it myself,alway's have,as far as the bias thing,and who is selecting what makes news and dont in the MSM. It also put's the MSM under the microscope more these day's...and they will have to compete...or fail.I watch CNN daily though online...I even have a couple CNN's on my cable.I also watch/listen to PBS and BBC daily ... so I get more than my fair share of MSM.I was kind of like Elizabeth too...you know with the daily paper as a ritual for year's,and the weekly local free press.While I was on vacation a couple week's ago...it was the morning paper daily for me though. I only have a regular cell phone and desk top computer at home...no laptop or Blackberry.

Thanx Guy..........

24 August, 2009 06:12  
Blogger mendip said...

Excellent posting - thanks! Couldn't agree more. I might also "pile on" by mentioning that the educational depth and breadth of my local papers' (WP,WT,WSJ & NYT)reporters has gotten worse and worse over the years. The better bloggers often have done more and better research and have a stronger background on issues than the MSM.

24 August, 2009 06:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

the educational depth and breadth of my local papers' (WP,WT,WSJ & NYT)reporters has gotten worse and worse over the years.

Well, this certainly isn't encouraging.....

It may be that papers which focus exclusively on local news (especially in small towns) may have more of a future -- there's less compaetition from the internet to deliver the same information, and perhaps less of a problem with institutional biases slanting coverage (though I'm less sure about that). There is actually one small-town paper I regularly get, and it carries a range of local info that would be very unlikely to be available from blogs, unless the newspaper itself became a blog. But reporting on national and global issues is a different matter. I suspect that over the next few years some of the venerable colossi of fishwrapdom -- maybe even the NYT itself -- will either fold or else go entirely online.

24 August, 2009 07:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, Chimp, PBS and BBC are my TV sources too (with an occasional venture in local FOX and NBC news -- if one can call it news at all). Not only you get a reasonable news coverage from both (PBS/BBC), but there are no commercials! Yay!

24 August, 2009 10:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, that geography "lesson" from NYT is funny!

Check this, Infidel -- this may be the future of the local news delivery model.

24 August, 2009 10:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Interesting concept (Everyblock) -- however, I notice that my city (metro-area population 1.7 million) isn't big enough to be on the system, so it may take quite a while for it to include towns of a few thousand.

24 August, 2009 15:11  

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