Thursday, May 29, 2008

Excellent Prescription

Great piece by Evan Coyne Maloney.


An overwrought Columbia Journalism Review column declares that the establishment media is a victim of big, bad bloggers and financiers who shockingly believe that:


While it is true that the quickening pace of technological change caught the old media off guard, much of the media’s current predicament is largely of its own making. By intertwining their most valuable differentiator (facts gathered at some expense) with something that’s increasingly ubiquitous and free (opinions), media outlets diminish the perceived value of their product and send a muddled message to news consumers.

Although there are bloggers who have done excellent first-hand reporting, most bloggers are not equipped to compete with the core competency of large news-gathering organizations. Instead, bloggers tend to function as filters, amplifiers, analyzers and fact-checkers for stories that have been reported (and under-reported) by the establishment media.

To put it not-so-flatteringly, we bloggers are parasitic; we synthesize our product by relying on output from the establishment media. But we’re symbiotic parasites, and our existence benefits the media in numerous ways, not the least of which is by driving traffic (and therefore ad revenue) to media websites.

Unfortunately, as this CJR piece shows, some in the media view bloggers as the enemy, a tormentor that must be defeated. By seeing bloggers as direct competitors, outlets put themselves in a position of competing on their greatest weakness while at the same time undermining their greatest strength.

Instead of competing in the arena of gathered facts, many in the traditional media have responded to the rise of online outlets by deciding that they need more opinion in their product, not less. The problem with that is, the news media has been insisting for decades that they’re “objective.” Personally, I don’t think true media objectivity is even possible, but the claim of objectivity becomes even less credible as the media adds more and more opinion to their product.

Yet under the guise of “news analysis,” “putting things in context,” giving “perspective” and “helping you understand,” the news media insists on wrapping what should be its unique product—hard-to-gather facts—in packaging that makes their product look similar to everything else that’s available online for free.

How can media outlets get themselves out of this predicament? They should either embrace opinion journalism fully and drop the pretense of objectivity, or they should get out of the opinion business altogether if they insist on being seen as objective.

The first option would have outlets finally own up to their biases and admit to being in the opinion business, but then they’d compete even more directly with bloggers. This would also pull the media further away from the market that their news-gathering infrastructure is uniquely positioned to serve. But at least by being truthful with news consumers about the perspectives that shape their presentation of the news, some of the media’s tattered credibility might be restored.

The other option is for news outlets to go in the opposite direction and purge the opinion from their offerings. This means that adjectives and adverbs should almost never appear in reporting. It also means that outlets would have to open up all their raw notes, transcripts and other reportorial artifacts for public inspection and stop relying on unnamed sources. Otherwise, only the gullible would continue to believe in the Objectivity Fairy.

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