The Death of Journalism

Cross posted from The Sirens Chronicles:

The state of journalism in the modern world reached a new low this week. As previously discussed here by Dusty in her posting titled Tribune company files bankruptcy, the company that owns two of our coutry’s largest, most influential newspapers is going down the tubes. And we have seen other consolidations or downsizing in the newspaper industry during the past few years, almost all of it attributable to the impact of the Internet and the changing playing field in the advertising industry.

It is widely understood that Internet advertising, facilitated by the likes of Google, has fatally undermined the newspaper business model. Advertising dollars have not increased with the advent of the new advertising channels, they have just been redirected. Traditional display advertising pages in newspapers have decreased significantly, and it would be logical to surmise that newspaper classified advertising inches have significantly decreased thanks to the Internet phenomena of eBay and CraigsList and their like.

The erosion of newspapers transcends the Internet age, though, It actually began with the advent of radio in the early twentieth century, which blossomed during the Second World War in its ability to bring the words of journalists alive together with the sounds of war. After the war we not only had the Baby Boom generation but also the nascent and subsequent boom in the television industry, initially broadcast on the airwaves and then augmented via the cable and satellite delivery channels. Throughout this evolution of technology, delivery of news, journalism, has also evolved.

In my mind what we see in terms of news dissemination is no longer termed journalism, but media/marketing message delivery. Traditional news gathering and publication organizations are now simply appendages of media conglomerates. With the overriding mission to provide financial return to their owners through their extraordinary ability to market and sell stuff. As examples I cite Time/Warner, how many people associate that media conglomerate with journalism and Time magazine, as opposed to movies, recordings, theme parks, product tie-ins and other vehicles designed to sell something? ABC, American Broadcasting Company, and their news division are owned by the Walt Disney Company, owner of the Disney entertainment library, Disney (entertainment) studio, the premiere theme parks in the world, ESPN, the Disney Channel, Disney stores, and numerous other distribution channels. ABC’s delivery of news, at their local Los Angeles owned television station is totally pimped out. There are constant tie-in “news stories” broadcast by this outlet that are nothing but undisguised advertising promotions for other Disney media products. A typical example is that when the television show “Dancing With The Stars” is in active production and broadcast, viewers can expect a phony “news story” about “Dancing With The Stars” every evening. The same operating practices are seen with regularity on the other broadcast networks also, as we all know.

It was not always this way in broadcast journalism. In the earlier days, first in radio, then in television, the people gathering the news and delivering the news on air were consummate professional journalists, trained and developed during the hey day of print journalism. Think of names like Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkeit. As time went on, though, and television prevailed over radio, professional journalists were replaced by camera ready news readers, pretty faces simply reading a script that came originally from a real writer, or from a wire service. We went through an era of “happy talk” on most local news programs, and the old lions who anchored the network news begain to fade away, which is graphically illustrated by all of the talking heads sitting behind anchor desks on the cable channels. No longer was a college degree and working experience in journalism the best entree to a broadcast news organization, but rather a communications degree, what ever that is, coupled with a pleasing to the eye of the target demographic, camera ready face and an ability to engage in endless ignorant speculation in on screen chatter with their peers during breaking news events. An ability to run the mouth while saying nothing of substance or accuracy when breaking in to normal broadcast content with the latest police car pursuit, or wild fire, or celebrity’s self serving news conference is what is sought by the broadcast and cable networks. The ideal canditate for a broadcast news position is now anyone with a similar background to Sara Palin.

Things are looking grim, the tradtional print news gathering and distribution organizations are suffering a prolonged death, the modern era media/marketing companies are applying the coup de gras to traditional journalistic ethics and values with their rampant, unrestrained hucksterism. I am afraid that those channels we have traditionally depended upon for our sources of news and information will soon disappear entirely, and as far as I can tell, broadcast, cable and Internet, while they have brought us immediacy, and ubiquitous distribution, have discarded the depth, research, ethics and quality of true journalism, and we are all going to suffer, and all be more suspectible to manipulation and loss of liberty by any huckster or demagogue with deep pockets.

As a final example of the death of journalism, one cannot overlook the egregious example of MSNBC yesterday, during the biggest news story of the week, the arrest and indictment of governor Rob Blagovejich of Illinois. In the middle off broadcasting the story, the genius’s at MSNBC broke in with a direct feed from Jay Leno’s news conference announcing his new contract to deliver a prime time entertainment program for their parent, NBC. They had the gall to call this “breaking news”, when it was obvious it had all been choreographed, given the fact that the story had already appeared in the newspapers received via home delivery earlier yesterday. I never thought I’d see the day where in another segment on MSNBC I would see Andrea Mitchell, a heretofore credible journalist, gushing over Jay Leno. This was truly appalling, Steven Capus, the president of NBC news should be fired over this, but most likely, he will receive a bonus from his corporate masters, after all NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric, one of our county’s premier makers and sellers of stuff.

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