Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The State of the News Media: Have the lambs stopped screaming?

Perusing the Pew Project's report on the state of affairs in the current media climate afforded a comprehensive view into the quagmire that we, as students, have been made very aware of within the walls of the Gaylord College. The report, as stated by the practitioners themselves, is bleak. This dreary outlook can be found not only in the subject matter, but is projected loud and clear through many media outlets scrambling, convoluted attempts to get back to the way it was before things were flipped upside down.

But, wait. Why aim to go back there? For one, it was comfy before all hell broke loose. There's nothing comfortable about now. Today, you embrace change or go home, and many are already on their sofa begrudgingly watching the bookends of the political cable spectrum: Hannity or Olberman.

What surprises more than anything is the reliance these bastions of journalism and stalwarts of the First Amendment had/have upon the dollar. It is common knowledge that media entities make profits. After all, they need to pay their staffs and cover production costs. Yet, the scramble occurring to recover some of the lost revenue that the current technological changes have brought about provides clear insight into an eye opening altruism: making money is more important to many of these organizations than dispensing truth when you get right down to it.

It is an even more startling revelation that many of the current developments that have made life so hard on the long standing institutions of the journalism landscape could have been avoided with a little foresight:

"In newspapers, roughly half of all classified advertising revenue has vanished, a good deal of that to operations that newspapers could have developed for themselves."

One simple word comes to mind: complacency. And what does that say for organizations that turn out a brand spanking new product every single day of the week? Arrogance? Or maybe a head in the sand approach to the looming changes that inevitably face all organizations at some point in their existence? The inability to perceive and adapt to change has placed many news organizations in a hole dug by themselves, and the economic woes multiplied by the recession could very well provide the dirt to bury them alive.

With the layoffs and economic woes mentioned above, reporters are changing their professional tactics, as well. Some individuals are setting out on their own, and, like photographers have long championed, living a freelance lifestyle (though this is only a small number, it is still fascinating). The report states:

"The movement offers the possibility of more skilled reporting from the field. Yet it would also require consumers to be discriminating and raises questions about how news organizations would ensure quality and reliability."

This trend holds much to be afraid of in the brave new world of journalism. The so called movement requires the reader to be more discerning regarding what they consume, but who has that much faith in the everyday joe surfing the net? One main concern with the current trend of fractured/niche media outlets is that they are offering a skewed and opinionated view of the truth, but not clearly stating so on the front end. A reader of a less discriminating mind, or even one without the time or want to seek out other potential sources, gets, if not misinformed, led in a particular direction. This is the nature of this new beast, but so many are simply not aware. Whereas before, there were entities at legacy news organizations in place for quality control, there are no such filters in the blogosphere.

Final thought: negligence within the industry has led to this point, and the only thing that will see it through is vigilance and a commitment to the truth. Doing so in new and experimental ways is a must to compete with lone wolves lurking out in the vast expanse of the internet. Yet, the search for truth can never be compromised. Even for timeliness, our new favorite friend. Anchoring ourselves to this idiom will do more heading forward than running around spending fleeting dollars on dead end ideas executed from knee jerk positions.

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