The Maddening State of News Media

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“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!” So begins the book of Ecclesiastes and my assesment of the current state of the news media. With over a decade in journalism and mass communication, I find that genuine journalism is slowly being strangled by the very organizations dedicated to it. I’m not alone. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll indicates only 36% of Americans believe the media is accurate. In 1999, 125 senior journalists were polled. 70% of the respondents felt more negatively about most news organizations (Daily Source). What could lead to such ill-favor? “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10. News has always been plagued with walking the line between being a community service and making profit. After all, journalists have to eat. However, recent trends have tipped the scale for profit to drive the news.

Innovation and recent technology have made news more accessible than ever. However, this has led to a insane battle amongst news organizations to maintain ratings and revenue. The growth of 24-hour news networks turned a rat-race into something even worse. Air time was given to news pundits. Sensationalism and entertainment put in a suit and called a journalist. Bill O Reilly, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh and many others drew in ratings and money. This has now become the state of 24-hour news networks. For example, MSNBC’s primetime schedule is entirely comprised of pundits (MSNBC). Where’s the news?

Newspapers aren’t above criticism either. The higher profit and effeciency of consolidation is why nearly 80% of all newspapers are owned by mult-newspaper chains. Does the public notice? Why, yes! A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors revealed that 59% of Americans saw newspapers caring more about profit than public good (Daily Source).

The local news fairs no better. The poor local news station must not only battle rivals but also must contend with the audience shift towards online media. This has created an environment where short deadlines and late-breaking news trump logic and integrity. Its that very environment that incidents like the one at KTVU-TV occur. In 2013, an Asiana flight crashed in San Francisco, killing 3. The National Transportation Safety Board released the names of the four pilots on the flight. KTVU-TV, desparate to be first, bypassed any critical review and went on air. The names? Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Li Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow (SF Gate). Better yet, justwatch it. While this may be an extreme example, journalism suffers when ratings and money drive it. My time in newsrooms saw daily lapses in thinking and integrity by both my own station and others. Too many times have I seen news directors push crews to get on-air with no confirmed info. I have been rushed to take the news vehicles out or go in the chopper to cover unconfirmed news, only to be returned later after discovering it to be a false alarm. The pressure to be live and late-breaking is felt by journalists everywhere. A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that 34% of the surveyed journalists said the “rush to deadline,” was a major factor in mistakes. The remainder cited company issues with carelessness, inexperience, being overworked, and understaffed as primary reasons (Daily Source).

Confidence in the media has been shaken. In a Gallup poll, TV and print journalism have both dropped in public confidence by more than 10% in the past 10 years (Gallup). The studies show it. The public and many journalists know that the state of news media is profit-driven and sloppy. So why don’t more journalists make a stand against the system? Sadly, the answer is once again money. In the age of consolidation, either drink the company kool-aid or lose your job. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

What I truly believe will bring about real change is the consumer’s response. In this fast-food diet world, consumers just simply don’t seem to care they are being malnourished with poor news. We know its bad for us. We can state it during a poll or survey. However, we continue to be consumers of the journalistic equivalent of a Big Mac. We simply don’t care. More people have viewed Gangam Style than the first US black president’s inauguration. That is the state of journalism. Its meaningless until consumers demand better. Its meaningless until news organizations prioritize community over profit. Its meaningless until journalists can pour themselves into telling good stories instead of making the deadline.

Sources:

Daily Source. (2014, September 17). Current Problems in the Media. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from http://www.dailysource.org/about/problems#.VERNy_nF-wl

MSNBC. MSNBC TV Schedule. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from http://www.msnbc.com/schedule

Matier. Ross. (2013, July 24). KTVU firings over airing of prank Asiana pilots’ names. Retrieved October 19th, 2014 from http://blog.sfgate.com/matierandross/2013/07/24/2074/

Dugan, Andrew. Americans Confidence in News Media Remains Low. Retrieved October 19th, 2014 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/171740/americans-confidence-news-media-remains-low.aspx

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