Monday, May 16, 2011

The Real Problem with the Media

Dean Baker has a post on his blog Beat the Press that zeros in on the real problem with contemporary media (and probably explains why people are tuning out, stopping subscriptions, and going elsewhere for "news"):
It is difficult to understand why newspaper editors think that their typical readers have more time to evaluate the truth of politicians' claims that reporters who have a full time job to do such things. However these seems to be a widely held view, since so often articles are devoted to telling us what the politicians claim without including any effort to uncover what is true.

Today's he said/she said in the Post and the NYT is about high gas prices. The Democrats are looking to take back tax breaks from the oil industry while the Republicans are pushing to "drill here, drill now." It would have been useful to include a bit of analysis so that readers could judge the likely impacts of the two policies.
There is more. Go read the whole post.

The press presents the news as stenography, not analysis, i.e. "he said/she said" instead of checking facts, explaining motives/intentions, and providing a true account.

The press treats political elections as beauty contests and not as a fight for ideas based on platforms and specific promises. More time is spent on assessments of "chances" to win and "standings in the polls" than on political platforms or specific proposals.

The press treats "the news" as simply the ephemera of today and never bothers to provide historical context, provide real alternative interpretations, and an assessment of future impact.

The press is "fishwrap", i.e. it is a media to sell advertising and the media companies want to spend as little as possible on "news" and focus on selling ads. If this means that a big corporation gets to be treated with gloves by media, well, revenue is the lifeblood of the industry. So you lose a few readers or subscribers. There are plenty more suckers who will mistake the fishwrap for real "news".

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