Everyone’s to blame for the state of media

According to Le Devoir, the FPJQ (Quebec’s professional journalists association) polled its members about the state of the media, and overwhelmingly they said that quality is deteriorating and sensationalism is replacing proper news judgment.

Naturally, management at the media outlets disagreed. Even the Journal de Montréal’s George Kalogerakis says with a straight face that they don’t sensationalize or exaggerate the news (full-disclosure trivia: He hired me for my first job at The Gazette, then promptly left the city editor position for a big-money offer at the Journal)

Patrick Lagacé, for his part, blames us, the readers. He says that with the Internet giving us access to so many points of view, we have no excuse not to be well informed about the news.

I think all three parties are at fault:

  • Journalists are increasingly lazy. The Internet brings all the information to you. You can rip off blogs, rewrite press releases, write about what you see on TV, or just rewrite what a politician tells you on the phone. Investigative journalism is the first casualty of a journalist’s busy schedule, and so local news tends to the tired old no-effort categories: he-said-she-said political battles, rewrite-what-the-police-PR-guy-told-me crime reporting, traffic accidents (also courtesy of the police PR guy), 100-year-old grandmas who want to see their photos in print, and of course the weather.
  • Managers are concerned not with promoting news stories that will change the world, but by making front pages that will get picked up at the newstand, or leading newscasts with ratings-rich attention grabbers. They’re editors but they’re also money people, and they know what people will pay for. Which brings us to:
  • Readers and viewers say they want more investigative journalism and hard news, but when nobody’s looking they’ll pay more attention to that Paris Hilton story than the 3,000-word feature on Sudan. Crap works because you buy it. You can’t turn around and blame these people for giving you what you want.

So how is this going to change? The Internet is one big step in the right direction, if only because it encourages the growth of niche communications. Major local media try to be all things to all people, and that worked in the past because there was no alternative. But now people with specific interests are finding others with similar interests, and those publishers who dare to be different are thriving.

The flip side to that is that when you get all your news from these niche sources, you lose the overall picture. Those world news stories you only pretend to care about go from I-just-scanned-the-headline to I-had-no-idea-that-happened. You end up knowing the most minute detail about the latest Battlestar Galactica episode but absolutely nothing about the political situation in Pakistan.

Time will tell us whether this new information access will increase or decrease our overall exposure to news.

2 thoughts on “Everyone’s to blame for the state of media

  1. DAVE ID

    What a load of guano man. Once again, take most of the blame off the press and lay most of it on the clients. The problem is choice. If 90% of the product is CRAP what else are we going to chose? Good stories get buried so the prurient crap can help sell more copies or get more viewers. Just last night I was waiting to watch 60 minutes. Oh it was fucking football…. AGAIN! And then when the game was over, instead of going to 60 minutes, the toggled to another football game. YO! WTF? Where’s my 60 minutes?

    Sure it’s anecdotal, but I’m surely not alone.

    Take those free trash rags you yourself used as an example in a previous blog, METRO and 24H. The first few pages are the gossip and celebrity news. Only later is there any “NEWS”. But after a few pages, people get to their station, dump the rag. They never get to the news.

    Speaking of free, there’s the issue of cost. Go to a magazine shop. Celeb rags, 3$, the fine photography magazines I buy cost on average? 20$ a pop. Most people can’t afford to buy the 5 or 6 mags I want to buy every 2 months. Could be any other publication of choice.

    There’s still a system of wealth and intellect vs poor and stupid that exists.

    Same with food. You can buy Kraft Parmesan or if you’re a food snob like me, Parmesan Reggiano at 38$ a kilo. But that’s because I insist on the best. But most people don’t know and can’t afford it. Oh but good luck finding that on the market shelf. You have to go to specialty stores. Again the problem is choice.

    The problem is quality control. Without it you get POM making Bagels which is a travesty in itself. The problem is a self-feeding circle of crap. There’s no greater share of blame to assign.

    I can turn around and blame them for catering to the basest elements of the human psyche which is easy manipulation, instead of doing the hard work. Reality TV killed scripted TV for a while because it promised tits and ass despite the fact you cant show tits on TV. That’s just the human brain for you, that’s how it works and information distributors are simply exploiting that to the maximum to avoid having to work harder to dole out a good product. Maximization of profit, make it fast and cheap and turn a huge percentage.

    Mechanically Reclaimed Meat anyone?

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  2. Zoey Castelino

    You are right. We are getting lazier when it comes to research. When I first learned my trade (Journalism) I had to do real research using books, magazines and even go out an interview people. Now, as sad as it is, my first source will be the Net… followed by most always needed research via the good ol’ fashioned way. Because most times, the Internet is wrong.

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