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.