April 17, 2013

I'm tired of defending the media

And I'm a journalist. (For now. Still trying to not be one. If I can find something and someone that will put me in a better place in the modern American world.)

All the clusterfucks of misidentification and misinformation over the Boston Marathon explosions -- all preventable, even in today's staff-chopped, time-pressed journalism -- have just become too much.

First, in part for clearly conservative political reasons, the New York Post has us believe that a Mooslim suspect has been arrested, on Tuesday.

That's clearly shot down.

Then, out of sheer cluelessness, CNN (though it seems like AP abetted it, at least) claims on Wednesday that an arrest, or maybe more than one, has been made.

Meanwhile, in a social media Panopticon, everybody retweets this information without lifting one finger to try to independently verify it.

And even worse, nobody apologizes after the latest round of mistakes are clearly shown to be mistakes.

Even though I have defended legitimate use of social media by the traditional mainstream media, one has to say that it's becoming more and more irresponsible about it all the time in tragedies. Even putatively reputable sources like CNN and AP are blackening their own eyes, and will probably continue to do so. 

But we're all at fault for this in some ways.

To the degree we're disaster porn junkies, and we expect the MSM to deliver an ever-quicker fix, we're at fault. That's doubly true the more and more we expect to get our online news for free.

The MSM is at fault for not fixing broken financial models much earlier. The AP, for underpricing itself to news aggregators, is also at fault.

The "lean hypercapitalism" of modern big biz America in general is also at fault.

These are all mixed up in some sort of vicious circle that may not die down for years, if at all, until the current media system is a hollow shell, one ever more dependent on a mix of private and government PR to fill news holes with little critical editing or actual reporting. 

I mentioned earlier that "Panopticon."

Probably 90 percent of Americans who say TV is their primary news source are clueless that, especially at the local level, TV gets most its stories direct from the newspaper headlines.

Probably 90 percent of those who claim the Net as their primary news source are either ignorant of most of its news being clipped from papers, newspaper websites and similar -- or else semi-conspiratorial attacks on the mainstream media, but still based on it in a Tar Baby sort of way.

So, maybe more newspapers will fold in the future.

Paywalls are good, in and of themselves. But, they're just a one-time stanching of newspapers' financial bleeding. What if more and more hardcopy ad dollars continue to become digital dimes? What if, as appears to continue to be the case, more and more of those digital dimes continue to be "clipped"? Internet rates for CPM on ads are still declining, if only at a lesser rate. And, what if more and more of those clipped digital dimes get replaced by mobile nickels?

Then some more papers fold. And the above scenario of government and private PR fluff fills out more of the pages of those that are left. And, even more, fills out TV news and websites.

Look at the recently touted Orange County Register. The reality is that it recently made a bunch of PR agreements with various area universities. And, that's probably just the starting point for them. Sure, you can expand your newshole. If a lot of it is PR editing.

Like Franklin's "republic if you can keep it," if the American public can't or won't keep a vital Fourth Estate, then that's that. 

Because, if traditional newspapers are the first domino in this chain, traditional newspaper ownership, in the face of the first stirrings of the Internet, has largely shot itself in the foot, over and over, during the past 15 years, as I documented above.

Meanwhile, traditional TV is next. Its "TV model" of revenue plays no better on the Web than newspapers' idea that it would 15 years ago. Ad-blocking keeps ads away, while plunging Net ad rates hit TV websites no less than newspaper ones. And, TV stations run from the fear of getting beat, more and more, fearing that newspaper websites now let the electronic version of print media do that.

And, TV stations appear to not even have heard about  the discussion of paywalls. Does anybody who read this know of a paywalled TV website? 

Ten years from now, TV station owners will probably be looking about as clueless and fearful as newspaper owners do today.

And, at some point, that means the news aggregators, and the news swipers like Huff Post, simply won't have so much material to work with.

And, let's be honest, like Matt Ingram (wow, I actually like something he wrote) calls on newspapers to be honest. Newspapers have always fudged, inflated, or ginned up their circulation numbers. Counting an online subscriber who also has a hardcopy as two different subscribers (or three if they're also on mobile) only makes it worse. And, per Matt, no, it's not justified by past practices.  This all means that many of them are dying an even more rapid death than might be predicted.

That said, advertisers have known this score for some time. It's not like they have a lot of room for complaint.

What about hyperlocal?

It's a fad at worst; at best, it's gauze rather than a full Band-Aid. Readers of the hardcopy versions of smaller daily papers don't like the minimal AP newshole they are given today, with smaller page sizes and fewer pages. 

And, those smaller dailies, and weeklies? Sure, old white readers are the mainstays of the newspaper world. But, they're becoming an ever-smaller portion of the national mix.

Does this mean Advance is right to immediately put NOLA and other papers on three-day-a-week operation? No, not even if the bottom line is the bottom line. They were making profits now.

Rather, to me, it seems like the Newhouse family is admitting to cluelessness to the level of throwing in the towel and making a last roll of the dice. But their papers are still profitable, so there was no need to do this right now. And, such an abrupt transition risks being offputting, or, as in the case of New Orleans, "inviting" competition to come poach on your turf.

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