Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Journalism Is Dead

With Glenn Beck, not the mainstream media, exposing Van Jones for the rest of us, it might be the appropriate time for a little rant against the state of modern journalism. How to put this: “Journalism Is Dead.” Yep, that about sums it up. And I have particular anger for Fox News.

Modern journalism is in a bad state. Though, to be fair, most of what ails modern journalism has ailed it since journalism first began:

• Modern journalists are biased. True enough, and when I get the chance, I will put together an article showing you just how biased. But journalistic bias is nothing new. Indeed, at one time, journalists were openly biased. When you pick up the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, for example, you’re looking at a paper that was founded as a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party.

So even though the New York Times is a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, that’s nothing new -- they’re just less honest about it. Same thing with the Associate Press announcing just prior to the election that they would no longer present all views “uncritically,” but will instead put their own spin “on the news”. And while this may represent a change of official policy, it certainly won’t change the practice, which has involved spinning for as long as I can remember.

• Charges of being co-opted are nothing new either. The Founders called for a free press. But other countries have not been so noble. Pravda means “truth” in Russian, but you would have been hard pressed to find much truth coming from Pravda during the cold war. The Pentagon periodically gets caught paying journalists to present favorable opinions on its behalf. And while corporations now dominate journalists, this is not so different than the days when Randolph Hearst ran his newspaper empire with an iron fist.

Modern journalists are also an easily co-opted group. The Washington Post tried to use its connections to sell “off the record” private meetings between the rich and powerful and those with too much money. White Houses have learned to manipulate the press corp as well by granting special access. . . hello ABC. The NFL, a master at manipulating journalists, dispenses tickets, interviews, and access to keep its journalists in line -- when they don’t outright hire them. Corporations have gotten very good at using journalists for their purposes as well. Maria Bartiromo of CNBC got in trouble when it was revealed that she accepted favors (like flights on private jets) from the same people she reported on. And CNBC has started pimping for sponsors, unless you want to believe their repeated “spontaneous” sales pitches for Gap jeans are actually news.

At this point, modern journalists are little more than press agents for the people they cover.

• Charges of sensationalism are not new either. Sure modern journalists try to create crises and false urgency to sell their work and they often trade in salacious details rather than relevant fact, but that’s all been done before. The phrase “yellow press journalism,” which fanned the flames or populist resentment to begin the Spanish American war, was hardly meant as a compliment.

The Real Problem Is Journalistic Laziness

So what is different today? Frankly, journalists have gotten lazy. How else do you explain the media, with its vast resources and supposed training and drive for the truth, being scooped repeatedly by bloggers? How else do you explain allowing plagiarized work to appear in a paper like the NYT day after day for so long without any editor noticing? How do you explain journalists who don’t know what they are talking about and don’t take the time to inform themselves?

You do know that you really can’t trust anything they tell you, right? As anyone who has ever been involved in an incident that ended up getting press coverage can attest, the journalist is often the least knowledgeable person in the room, both when they arrive on scene and when they leave. And few facts survive the journey through the journalist’s mind to reach the work itself, if they ever made it into the mind in the first place. Indeed, in my experiences with journalists, I have been shocked to see how poorly the journalists understood the events about which they reported and opined, and how little they cared.

And frankly, modern journalists are a strangely uninquisitive lot. They don’t know and they don’t want to know. Why? Maybe because the more you know about something, the more you realize just how much more you don’t know. Perhaps, it’s easier to remain ignorant of our ignorance. After all, ignorance is bliss.

So how does this manifest itself? It manifests itself in many ways. Stories are shallow and often wrong on fundamental levels. Journalists do little work to cultivate contacts, which used to be the lifeblood of journalism. Instead, they read the AP wire or scan the net. Place a quick mid-night phone call that won’t be returned in two rings, and bamo, you have a story and a failure to deny the story: good to go! Journalists no longer even wait to confirm their stories with a second source, which used to be the fundamental rule of journalism. Instead, they just add the magic words “is being reported” to let you know that this news is really only rumor. And when was the last time you heard of real investigate journalism?

When I look at modern journalism, the writing is poor, the research is worse or non-existent, and the reasoning is laughable. Not a week goes by that I can’t find some article that contains such obvious logical inconsistencies that the journalist should have realized their “facts” were impossible. Even when I read a “reputable” magazine like the Economist, I marvel at how easily I can rip up article after article without even researching a single fact. Your names are wrong, your dates are wrong, your numbers don’t add up. You just claimed an average rate that exceeds the population size. You claim that no one raised and objection, right before quoting someone who objected. Think people.

My Problem With Fox “News”

So what bothers me about Fox News? Fox News had a unique opportunity and they blew it. When Fox burst onto the scene, conservatives flocked to Fox in drove because they were sick of hearing their views ridiculed on each of the other channels. At that point, Fox had a chance to re-define journalism.

Fox could have changed the face of modern journalism. Fox could have forced journalists everywhere to start dusting off their sense of journalistic integrity and to stop being so damn lazy. But they didn’t.

Fox could have teamed up with a good reporting unit like the Washington Times and started to give us hard hitting news. They could have easily drawn in people like John Stossel and asked him to perform the kind of investigative journalism that he has done so well throughout the years -- hard facts, gathered through traditional means and verified, fairly presented, with logic and reasoning and without political bias. But they didn’t.

Did you wonder what life was really like on the streets of Baghdad when all that CNN would show you was Marines being killed? How about an investigation into what caused the banking crisis? Who was responsible? What is China doing in Africa (future article coming up on that one)? Did you even know they were in Africa? How about the Saudis? Does ethanol make sense?

Well, Fox didn't investigate (though their anchors happily gave you their opinions). Fox does not produce its own news, it just reads wire service reports. You can get those on-line a lot quicker and a lot more accurately (Fox shortens the reports to keep them simple). Fox does not do investigative journalism -- other than puff pieces. They will never uncover a government fraud or expose a defective missile system, because they just don’t do that kind of work. And they barely know other countries exist.

Fox doesn’t bring in experts to enlighten you, it brings in combatants to snipe at each other for thirty seconds before the segment ends. Fox News is news for those with attention deficit disorder. It is for people who want to hear someone argue for their side, it is not for people who are looking to learn the truth. It is talk radio, done on television by well-endowed anchors and anchorettes. And we conservatives accept this because there is no alternative.

Now, I'm not saying that the other networks are better, they're not. But that doesn't change the fact that Fox is offering very shallow product to us. It also doesn’t change the fact that Fox is squandering a golden opportunity here. If they tried harder, they could redefine news and give the words "journalistic integrity" some meaning again. They could give us the free press that a democracy needs. They could enlighten us about the world around us, about our politics, about each other. They could tell us the things we need to know to make good decisions. And most importantly, they could give us a source of news that we could trust. But that would be hard.

* end of rant *


CrisD said...

Thanks for telling Fox news that we're on to them. Journalism light. We need to hear SERIOUS challenges to the left--not straw dummies and car chases.

AndrewPrice said...

You're welcome CrisD. I see so much potential, and all we get, as you so accurately put it, are straw dummies and car chases. This issue really frustrates me.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I think you're right on target. Fox has blown multiple opportunities to get out there and lead. Look how much was accomplished with Van Jones because they allowed at least one of their featured players to pursue a single issue. Yet that is the exception rather than the rule. I think they took their own hype too seriously: "Fair and balanced. We report, you decide." Ah, hooey. I want fair, and I want honest. I also want fresh, true, in-depth, and investigative. We have the administration to force "balance" on us. Why not "Fox News--We tell you the truth, unadorned and unfettered--the way the Founding Fathers intended. If you want liberal spin, you're in the wrong place."

And while we're ranting, what the hell is that liberal dimwit Geraldo Rivera doing on FNC? His coverage of the Ted Kennedy ground-implacement was like a liberal love fest, conducted by an elite reporter on his yacht with a sign on it that said "if you loved the underwater motorist, and you're famous, stop here and talk with me."

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Thanks. I agree. I want news that finds the things that I don't know, but should know. I want reporters figuring out if somebody's done something wrong, if something is a danger to me or my country, or even enlightening me on achievements (cultural or scientific) of which I was not aware.

I want facts, presented honestly, no matter which side it hurts. If I'm wrong on something, debunk it -- I want to know. I would rather know the truth than feel warm and fuzzy living in delusion.

Joel Farnham said...

I used to watch Fox News religiously.........Until O'Reilly interviewed Obama.

Journalism was actually a marketing ploy. It was designed to give the illusion that people who write for newspapers were unbiased. The newspaper owner realized that they were way too biased early on and they wanted more readership. Their solution was to create journalism schools and send their reporters to it. The editorials were to reflect the owners opinions and the reporters and journalists were to reflect the liberal approach.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, You might be right, I'm not sure how journalism school evolved. But on thing is for sure, much of journalism is just that -- marketing. Sports news, business news, "cultural" news is nothing more than a series of 30 second ads for whatever product.

Political news is a little different, but it hardly qualifies as "news" -- it's persuasion.

It's a sad state of affairs.

Joel Farnham said...


Here is something to think about. You are a journalist. You are the one that sets your standards. Just what are your standards?

This is something to think upon. Not to answer to me. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I don't think of myself as a journalist so much as an opinionist.

I see my job as a blogger to be to gather information on topics of interest and to present that information in a way that you all will find interesting and useful.

That said, I'm not unbiased. I certainly advocate for the right. However, I do honestly strive to present all arguments fairly -- never to mislead or distort -- and I am quite willing to call out my own side whenever I think they are wrong or have gone around the bend.

Writer X said...

Maybe the solution is not to try to fix an old car (network/cable news) but to create a new car. Maybe that "new car" for news is the radio? Or the Internet?

Regardless, it's sad when journalists spin the news instead of developing appetites for actually finding and reporting real news. At that point, they're no longer journalists but copywriters.

Joel Farnham said...

You didn't have to answer. It was a backwards way of asking just what a journalist does.

I just checked the definition of journalist at Wikipedia. With a little wording change, it could be applied to you.

The difference is you accept that you have an opinion. Journalists claim they don't have one.

Hypocrisy thy name is journalist. :-)

Joel Farnham said...

WriteX, I am of the opinion that journalism is an artificial construct designed to increase readership of newspapers. I can't be sad when something that doesn't exist naturally in the world (at least from my viewpoint) dies.

Sanmon said...

This is why our founding fathers recognized that human nature is lazy and tried to implement a constitution that motivated the people to action and not inaction.

You brought up Glen Beck and recognized that he was allowed to present what appear to be facts, at least thats what I assume sense no one tried to defend Van Jones with counter facts. It will be interesting to see what he presents this week because he says someone will be going to Jail.

I wonder how much the blogosphere is assisting Beck I do not see all his information coming from his staff. I know he gave some credit to Breitbart last week.

AndrewPrice said...

I don't know Joel, I was pretty sad when Spock died? ;-P

Joel, I'm not 100% journalism stands for anything anymore. At one point you had reporters and editorialists. But then they started calling themselves journalists and they seemed to combine both function and then add all kinds of other things. What a mess.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I think the functions of journalism are worth saving, but maybe not in the present form.

The problem, however, with letting "journalism" shatter into a million pieces is that any trust that still exists will vanish. When blogs become considered news sources, we've hit a point where we might as well give up on the whole news idea: blogs (like talk radio) follow no rules or procedures, and have no code of ethics that give us any faith in anything they report.

Blogs and talk radio are good at talking about the news, but should not be relied upon to deliver the news.

Unfortunately, the people charged with gathering and delivering the news are failing to live up to responsibilities. So we're kind of lost at the moment.

AndrewPrice said...

Sanmon, you're right about the Constitutions. As I said in a prior article, conservatives accept human nature as it is and they try to control it -- liberals try to change it. The Constitution recognizes that we are flawed and tries to set up rules and procedures to keep us from acting on our flaws.

Unfortunately, there are no similar controls over journalists. There is nothing to prevent them from getting lazy, being biased, getting co-opted, etc.

Beck got his information on Van Jones from a reporter, though the name escapes me at the moment. But to his credit, Beck saw it for what it was and beat the drum until people listened. The MSM missed the story or ignored it.

Joel Farnham said...

If I could poach from Mark Twain,

I am not a journalist and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.


LawHawkSF said...

The "news" organizations, including Fox News, are low on news, high on hype (slow-speed police pursuits on freeways in L.A. get more air time than a major policy shift by the Obama administration). Reporters should be re-named "repeaters." "Journalism" was created because pseudo-intellectuals wanted academic cover for their failure to report and investigate, substituting political opinion and academic musings for hard news. TV news channels do the same thing the newspapers have been doing for years--making it nearly impossible to distinguish the news department from the editorial department. And a "journalist" can blur that distinction even farther since he is neither an editorialist nor a reporter.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Great quote. I love Twain. That man had an amazing way with words and phrases.

Writer X said...

Andrew, I think you just hit on the operative word: trust. Until a network or an organization can reign that in again, people will flock elsewhere. And I'm not advocating that there should only be one source for news either. Today, I don't even see how that's possible.

Joel, regarding newspapers, the only thing my local newspaper is good for is the crossword puzzle. My neice's grade school class could put together a better newspaper than most of what I see out there.

Sanmon said...

Andrew can you point me to that post that you referenced I would like read it.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Trust is the problem. And while I advocate a healthy distrust of government and I live by trust but verify, I think it's a dangerous situation when we lose our trust in our news sources. If I can't believe even the facts that I'm being given, how do I make decisions? It just makes us all susceptible to being led astray by con-men.

AndrewPrice said...

Sanmon, I got that from Patti's site. Here's the link to the article: Not A Wonk.

The reporter's name was Phil Kerpen.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I agree. Not sure what else to add. It's the blurring of opinion and fact that has destroyed our ability to trust "journalists."

patti said...

dudes, *we* are the new media.

as i thought about that today, i was realized how shocked my deceased journalistic father (he taught me at young age to question the agenda of all i read/heard/saw) would be to know i followed him into the business, albeit in a land called the internets. (thanky al gore!)

StanH said...

Journalism is dead, for the most part yes. I saw an interview with Roger Ailes when FOX was getting started, and his business model was to compete with CNN. He said to paraphrase, “I am not building a network to be watched 24/7 but you can watch for ten to fifteen minutes and find out what’s going on.” It has metamorphosised into the FOX Alert with some good programming like Cavuto & Beck. Like all “journalist” however, or news organizations that are part of the machine, inside the Beltway snooty patooties, FOX wants to keep there inside line to government officials and other connections in tact. Bottom line if you want “facts” you have to find them yourself.

ArmChairGeneral said...

Why do news channels like Fox News always try to stay 'middle of the road'? Why cannot we have a Republican channel?

That being said I completely agree with you. I want to know WHY not just WHAT. At least some of the reporters are asking those questions now.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, If we are the new media, then I would like a paycheck sent to my house! LOL!

Stan, I think there is a lot to that. Reporters are afraid to anger their sources because that's where their information comes from. But I'm talking about something even bigger. They aren't even trying to do their jobs the way they should be done. They are going through the motions and using tricks (like subsituting opinion and rumor for fact) to try to cover up their laziness.

AndrewPrice said...

ACG, One of the real problems is that reporters don't even know what to ask. As a lawyer, I can tell you that none of the reporters/anchors knows the first thing about the legal system -- even the ones that claim to have been attorneys before becoming reporters. Even most of the legal experts they use on tv would be utterly lost in a courtroom.

And it's just as bad in the sciences or with foreign policy, etc. It seems to have become a badge of honor among reporters to get away with reporting on the things they know the least about.

Skinners 2 Cents said...

Journalism as we've known it is dead.

As much as I'd hope to find a way to fix the journalistic reputation problem, I think that it's ingrained into quasi journalist from the beginning.

These biases happen long before they go to any journalist training camp.

While unbiased is a noble threshold to set it's an impossible one to ever achieve. The supreme court is an example of this.

One constitution and more than one interpretation. Those interpretations come from bias.

I'm looking for the degree of bias now when it comes to reporting.

I enjoy FOX as more a thumb in the eye of the established news outlets. They are certainly biased but I see it more as trying to balance out the left and right bias scale. I think the ratings go to prove how long people have been waiting for a change in the norm.

I'm looking for actual investigative and honest reporting. Reporters that have reliable facts/informants and can completely report on the situation as they have discovered it. Stossel was a great example of that quality.

I dislike the journalist ability to cast a permanent shadow over a business or person that is unjustified. Retractions should be front page and lead any news organization that got it completely wrong to begin with.

So many reporters come across as having an axe to grind. Worse yet an imaginary axe to grind. Creating woes where there are none. Fabricating reports as they see fit. This should be a career finisher. Sadly that's not always the case.

The reporter from CNN that went a little crazy at the Tea Party rallies should have been fired on the spot with an apology from CNN for having such a hack in their ranks.

She wasn't even pretending to report the news she was making it up on the fly. The dad with the baby in his arms was actually from FOX news trying to screw CNN....WTF.

That should be the iconic video image that is shown daily to journalists. We know who you are we know what your really thinking and we are not going to support your business of complete distortions. As these companies go out of business the journalist will have themselves to thank for it.

I think media is changing permanently because as with this site people can challenge any of the writers perspectives. We can double check facts and decide for ourselves if what we're reading is accurate.

We also get an in depth look into the entire situation not just 2 minutes of some possible facts and figures with a pie chart..."so here's what you're going to think. On to the next story that we'll be telling what to think about it as well."

PJTV is great when it comes to some honest well thought out reports. Whittle does a great job of destroying many of the lefts typical rhetoric. It brings a smile to my face every time I watch it and some chuckles...

This site,PJTV and others gives me a location to direct the misinformed among us.

It's a great stop gap for eliminating rhetoric and forces conversations or debates to actually require facts.

It's a new dawn for the information age and it will be brought to us by news containing facts.

AndrewPrice said...

Skinner, I agree on all your points. The problem you identify is a total lack of integrity in the profession. If they had integrity they would fire people who fake stories or act in obviously biased ways.

And I think all of this goes back to there being just an amazing amount of laziness (or indifference) or whatever you want to call it, that has sucked out any professionalism that remained in journalism.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Thanks for the kind words about the site too. We do try to be informative!

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