As seems to be the case fairly often these days, I see problems where others see greatness, and I see solutions where others see trouble. The disparagement of the other side’s whatever-wing media is an example.
While liberals are decrying the tactics and lack of morals of the right-wing media, the conservatives are denouncing the hate-mongering of the left-wing media. As I learned in Negotiation 101, if both sides hate you, that is a sign that you are doing something right. Or in this case, making yourself irrelevant.
I see the antipathy towards the other side’s media as the growing pains that inevitably accompany something new. And that something new that I see on the horizon is the rise of citizen-journalists. We don’t need citizen-journalists if the established media are doing their job and everyone trusts their reporting to be factual. What passes as reporting these days though, is more akin to shilling for the party of choice.
It’s amazing that, as the news has expanded to a 24/7 cycle, it seems as though there is less news to report. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, even HLN, all carry the same 5 stories all day long, showing exactly the same footage to accompany those stories. The only thing that changes is the analysis from Romney lied to Obama lied; from Romney’s in the lead to Obama jumps out ahead.
Gone are the days when intrepid reporters like Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair presented exposes after weeks or months of investigation. Today’s reporter need look no further than the latest White House press release, the latest Romney campaign press release, the latest polls, or which video has gone viral on Twitter.
Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. It is a thing. It is a sign that once again, the times, they are a-changing. When the established news services turn to analysis instead of investigation, it’s because they can afford to do so, because the news has become available from other sources.
News is only important if it is new. Long-term investigations are risky, because the news may have evaporated by the time the reporter files a story. Even the most gigantic, headline making and life changing story is only good for a couple of news cycles. Then the audience moves on to the next new thing. It costs a lot of money to send reporters out into the field long enough to gather a decent story. When that cost greatly outweighs the financial benefit to breaking that story, media outlets of all types are greatly disincentivized (my word) to allot a lot of resources to any one item.
So, the media are only too happy to have their sources do the work for them. Senators opine and campaigns issue their sound bites. About the only outlay a news organization must make is for cheaply paid interns, who surf the web for the next viral video.
Turns out it’s a lot cheaper to have a group of talking heads in a studio expounding on the meaning of the day’s one story than to send out a similar group to find the next story. Have those same talking heads appear on one another’s programs, and you’ve cut the budget even more. And why aren’t the hoi polloi clamoring for a bit more news? Why isn’t there a storm of protest against the 50th showing of the baby in the washing machine?
Because the people are getting their news, or as much of it as they want, from alternate sources. And if the big media outlets are acting as shills for whatever organization does the most work for them, those alternate sources are bound to be at least as trustworthy as the sleekly dressed talent reading prepared copy from a teleprompter.
And if the facts do not back up the internet/twitter/Facebook story of the hour, you can bet that there will hundreds, if not thousands, of followers ready to denounce it from the rooftops (sorry, the laptops) of the world.
It was one thing when the only game in town was Uncle Walter, expounding on the events of the day in a soothing baritone. Who was there to dispute him? Who was willing to travel to China or to Indonesia, spend time with the locals, absorb enough language, culture, and background to make a determination of the true facts, then come back, pay for a platform and the advertising necessary to gin up something of an audience, and contradict the most trusted news anchor ever?
Now, such travel isn’t necessary. Our culture of assimilation assures that, for every story, there is someone in this country who has some knowledge of what is going on, friends and relatives on site, and a Twitter account.
All of this is by way of saying, don’t worry that MSNBC might as well be carrying Obama 2012 placards, or that FOX might as well turn over a couple of hours of airtime every day to the Romney campaign. It is the inevitable tide of change. As expensive field reporters are dumped in favor of cheap press releases, there is nowhere for a 24/7 media operation to turn but to talking heads. They are safe in the studio, they can gain a loyal following if they are passionate enough, and the A/C is on, anyhow.
The reporters in the field are now the everyman, simply going about his business, smartphone and internet connection in hand. He finds a breaking story almost on the fly, uploads the video, and it captures our attention for a news cycle or two. This process is repeated, and the citizens are gratified that their thirst for knowledge has been satisfied yet again.
The only thing we seem to have lost is the in-depth investigation. The story behind the story. We glide along the surface of things, but no one has the time or the inclination for further research. Should we bemoan this state of things? Should we mourn the passing of the true journalist? Did you not read my first paragraph? Something will arise from the ashes.