Introduction to My Blog

With this blog, I aim to ask and answer provocative or otherwise interesting questions. I hope you find it valuable. Enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Our Journalism Problem

Our problem with journalism is deeper than most realize. The problem on the surface is that good journalism isn't sexy or fantastical, and draws fewer eyeballs than sensationalism. The rise of outlets like Fox News, followed by the Trump surge for MSNBC and CNN, all attest to the problem with journalism.

Less eyeballs amount to less opportunities to reach consumers by advertisers, who are increasingly the financial backbone of the journalistic business model. The question arises: how can journalists reach more readers and gain more of those coveted eyeballs? The answer to this question highlights the deeper problem with journalism.

With the free market left alone to determine winners and losers, good-quality journalism is decidedly unprofitable in the digital age. As my generation and those younger than me grow into adulthood, we have never had to pay for basic information about the world. The internet allows us to browse all of the free news sites we wish to see.

What is the problem here? We are watching a devastating spiral staircase come into form: Young people are less and less inclined to pay for journalism, decimating traditional outlets of quality journalism reliant on community funding, and elevating sensationalist trash that attracts mountains of clicks. Traditional outlets are indispensable for good information because they actually employ journalists who go out in the field and cover stories, gaining new information.

According to a New York Times article from December, more than one in five U.S. newspapers have closed. The article includes statements from ordinary people in communities, who describe how the loss of a local paper impacts them. Many describe a lack of coverage of vital local issues, while only being told of local violent crime, weather, and the occasional police chase.

It may be worth lingering for a moment here with the police chase idea. Why are police chases such money-makers for local television coverage? Everyone irresistibly watches. People tell their friends and family to turn on the channel to watch. They're thrilling. Anything can happen.

Live police chases highlight what is so terrible about market incentives for journalism, which leads us to our deeper, core journalism problem: most people simply don't want good journalism. People want the car chases. They want the "OUTRAGEOUS" and "AMAZING".

The difference between real journalism and what passes for journalism today is the difference between a documentary about a war and a war film. I am far from the first to publicly worry about the role entertainment plays in our information intake. Most refer to the problem as a "fusion" of entertainment and information

I am slightly more pessimistic. The way I see the issue, entertainment is slowly replacing information. The problem isn't that news of our local laws is becoming too sexy. The problem is that it is vanishing altogether. The increase in entertainment relative to sober information is making us more dull. It also makes our politics less focused on substantive problems and more on tribalism, personality auras, and the insult fights that occur in that vast wasteland we call "Twitter".

My message at the end of this is relatively simple. If you agree with the sentiments I express in this article, then be more skeptical of cable news. If it isn't a burden, subscribe to a good newspaper that does original journalism. Notice when the conversation becomes divorced from what real people are experiencing, and tied to petty squabbles between public figures. Think about how advertising money may pollute news coverage. Without corrections of the poor incentives, real journalism will continue to suffer. At the very least, we can be conscious of this and set better standards for ourselves.

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