Saturday, October 01, 2005

Wall Street to Newspapers: Screw the Journalism | Bayosphere

Daniel Schorr was asked on this mornings NPR wake-up program (I don't know the actual name of the show since I only hear a dozen or so minutes of it while I get dressed) what impact the Judy Miller release/testimony would have on on news reporting (if any).

I expected some long whiney speech about how democracy was doomed etc. But instead, Schorr surprised me by being succinct (paraphrasing): No doubt people will be more reluctant to talk to reporters "off the record" since now we know those comments can end up in court. This is partially a side effect of the fact that the American people just don't like us journalists very much at the moment.

That was all he had to say on the subject, and as is rarely the case, I agree with him. Furthermore I think the wound is for the most part self inflicted. It's true that the Internet has and is causing a sea change in the way the news is reported and analyzed. Some of this change is for the better, and some not.

It seems that two or three times a day in my Internet reading I find a mainstream journalist pointing out that blogger and other "Internet journalists" are sloppy in their reporting and are often doing little more than passing on rumors. More often than not, the very next article by said mainstream journalist contains those very same sloppy attributes.

The New York Times "journalist" who was caught in wholesale fictionalization of the news was not the first, but certainly an epoch-making case, and we have since had several more sensational cases, mostly concerning presidential politics, and now, bad reporting on a massive scale during the Katrina storm, and its aftermath. One of the "hi-lights" of the coverage in terms of hard facts was, I think, a lone network administrator, tending to a computer on a diesel generator, taking photos out the window of an office building in New orleans, mostly without comment.

So, as I see it, the ubiquity of the Internet and mainstream journalism's attempts at adapting to it have conspired to open the doors of a long-kept-secret sausage factory that is the news business. Of the masses of "ordinary people" doing their own Internet news shows of one form or another (blogging, pod-casting, vlogging), we see a lot of sloppy reporting, bad grammar, and outright misrepresentation of the news. As a percentage, there is more bad than good among the amateur efforts than among the professionals. This is to be expected.

Not so expected however is the poor showing among the so called professionals. Also not expected, is the fact that in some cases the top amateurs are as good as, if not better than the top professionals. I don't START my news reading with the New York Times or Washington Post, although I don't have those addresses blocked by my browser either. I'm more inclined to start with Slashdot, Drudge Report, Bloglines, Google news, in other words, aggregators of news (some automated some manually produced) and follow the links to (sometimes) original content in the MSM. More and more the MSM is pointing back out at the Internet, since, to a large extent, the MSM has been doing aggregation itself all along, we just didn't think of it that way.

Now the question that remains to be answered (although I think I've made up my mind) is: If I have to do my own quality analysis on a journalist by journalist basis to determine which ones are just REPORTING the news and which are cooking the books so to speak, is there any advantage for me to limit myself to the MSM sources? How much work do I actually save myself (given all the automation that comes into play) by using the MSM as a first filter on the news?

There is very little doubt in my mind that the business of news would be much better off today had it been run more like a business sooner. That implies more quality control, attention to customer feedback, and earlier adoption of new technologies. There are too many paid journalists out there who think themselves unique because they want to "change the world". I think they set their standards too high (or at least in the wrong place) in this. With that goal, one might better seek to be a researcher in medicine or physics, a politician, or even a computer hacker from Finland. I'd rather see an emphasis in journalism to "seek the truth and report it as found." If the news business had placed a greater emphasis on that for the past 20 or so years I think they would be faring better now.

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