The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts

Archive for June 3rd, 2009

Jun/09

3

Why don’t I care if newspapers die?

I was once an avid reader of newspapers – a three-paper-a-day man: the local paper for local news; the capital city daily for national and international news and the national Financial Daily for business news. I now read none and think that the whole industry has the stench of death about it – not financially (although it certainly has) but the quality of work was what sent me away.

Newspapers (and television news) is notoriously inaccurate. There are exceptions. Occasionally a paper will do a great job of investigative reporting and team it with great writing, but this is not the “norm”. Most newspaper content is filled with slightly rewritten press releases, information easily found elsewhere (movie start time, tides, weather, TV program guides, etc) and copied from the real source to the newspaper) and some hastily written article about an event that is full of inaccuracies because the reporter hasn’t a clue about the content.

Do you think I’m judging too harshly? Consider this. Have you ever watched the TV news report, or read a newspaper article, of an event you were part of or participated in? Has that report been 100% accurate? I can honestly say that, of the dozen or so appearances I’ve made in newspaper or TV media, or those associated with other family business where I’ve been privy to the facts, not one report was 100% accurate. Not a single one.

So I have to assume that every article is written with the same sloppy adherence to the facts of the story.

The average newspaper adds very little value. Most of the content is not original reporting – between the previously-mentioned press releases and Associated Press and/or Reuters and fact-based content sourced from elsewhere there’s not much original, true news gathering.

The little there is is easily reproduced elsewhere. For example, local news site Pasadena News outsources the writing to Indian writers. If you’re only rewriting a press release, or reporting the outcome of local council meetings, which are placed online anyway, then the desk could be in Pasadena or Mumbai. Fact checking (if anyone actually does that) is an email or phone call away wherever you are in the world (as long as you’re prepared to deal with time zone issues).

Newspapers, in their current dying form, are not adding a whole lot of value. Instead it’s nostalgia that’s keeping them going – the nostalgia of lazy Sunday mornings with paper, family and coffee, not the delivery of well-researched original reporting.

If we have Associated Press – who have a very useful RSS feed to deliver relevant content directly to me – why do I need the LA Times to print it for me? If they added a local angle, maybe.

Journalism won’t die with newspapers. In fact, contrary to the opinion of some journalists, the blogosphere – the sheer number of people fact checking – has led to some real stories breaking. Remember the Dan Rather/George W Bush faked papers scandal? Or how the citizen reporter who videotaped (and shared) George Allen’s “macacca” moment that lost him re-election in 2006? It seems in many, many recent cases, citizen journalists have out-performed (in aggregate) the established media in uncovering stories.

So, I’ve gone from a three-a-day habit to a zero newspaper life and am better informed about news than ever. I keep track of Australian news and am better informed than my Australian-resident mother. I scored very highly ion the Pew Research Test Your News IQ with a better score than my newspaper-reading, TV news watching friends and associates.

I won’t be dancing on the graves of newspapers, but their failure to adapt and their high minded refusal to see the log in their own eye makes me indifferent to the failure of the whole industry. Let it be replaced with new forms of news-gathering where some accuracy might slip in.

See also: We need a Fifth Estate and Will “amateurs” save democracy from the “professionals”?

June 2009
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