Filling up on Those Bloating Blog Burgers
I just arrived in San Diego for the O'Reilly Emerging Tech con, running Tuesday through Thursday, and I picked up the LA Times to look at over my burrito touristo here in Old Town SD. There are two stories of interest. A study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism which is associated with Columbia U, carries the headline "Study Warns of Junk-News Diet," and it's really a mixed bag. On the one hand the study warns that people are getting too much "journalism of assertion" from blogs and cable news; on the other it notes that journalism need to become more transparent. The first trend leads to the second, the report said.
[It's important] to document the reporting process more openly so that audiences can decide for themselves whether to trust it. ... Since citizens have a deeper range of information at their fingertips, the level of proof in the press must rise accordingly. In effect, the era of trust-me journalism has passed and the era of show-me journalism has begun.
The study looks at the election and the war and tries to figure out if the media have been pro- or anti-Bush. The results are not particularly interesting (election: 30% anti-Bush, 12% anti-Kerry; war: 25% neg, 20% pos). The LA Times notes the study "did not try to assess whether the outcome reflected partisan bias, ... a tendency to view incumbents more harshly, or some other reason." (Such as ... Bush's policies deserve negative coverage, far more than they received? But I digress.)
Really interesting, and really dismaying to anyone who might have thought newspapers might have a clue as to how to save their asses, is the news that "62% of those working for Internet news outlets said their newsrooms had suffered cuts in the last three years, far greater than the 37% of news people at traditional outlets who said their staffs had been cut."
That is just astounding, when you realize that the report also noted that online advertising increased 30% in the past year to $10b and blog readership has increased 58% in the last six months.
While the Project for Excellence in Journalism thinks that citizens are guilty of "news obesity -- consuming too little that can nourish and too much that can bloat them," we need just surf over the New York Times' boffo story that hit on Sunday: "Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News":
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.
This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.
It's gettng harder and harder for the news establishment to claim they have some special claim to integrity, independence, or ability. The study's dichotomy that journalists report facts and bloggers spew opinion is just entirely the wrong way to cut it. Even the notion that "bloggers" is a single group that can be characterized is really hogwash.
That said, bloggers are not journalists; they're people. Blogs reflect the range of conversation that people have, largely opinionated. Some of us blogpeople are journalists; some of us make an effort to gather and break stories. And we reserve our rights to have informed opinions about the topics we cover.