• Ad revenue for network and local television is also slowly slip-sliding away — much of it to cable, whose top three “news” channels are enjoying lusty profits and viewership gains. As Michael Gerson points out, cable “news” outlets “have forsaken objectivity entirely and produce little actual news, since makeup for [talk-show] guests is cheaper than reporting.” He also reiterates something that I’ve pounded here many times: As people’s lives get more frantic and the media pie fragments into thousands of narrow slices, news consumers turn to stations, networks, papers, and Web sites that comport with their political preferences.Some folks are “customizing” Web pages, making sure that everything that hits their eyeballs matches their favorite subjects and political preferences.As legal scholar Cass Sunstein writes in his newest book on information in a democracy, the Internet “is serving, for many, as a breeding group for extremism, precisely because like-minded people are deliberating with greater ease and frequency with one another.” Americans are increasingly getting their information, Sunstein notes, “in a customized form, by subscribing to e-mails and RSS feeds on their favorite topics and skipping subjects they find less congenial.” RSS stands for “really simple syndication,” which in and of itself has a worrisome ring to it. • Read this, too, traditional journalists, and weep: The person who, three years running, has ranked as young people’s No. He is a comedian with not a whit of journalistic training.Stewart has been a French horn player, a busboy, a bartender, a puppeteer, and a stand-up comic.Sorry, there is no juicy sex scandal that I know enough about to describe. Above a recent eulogy for the profession by columnist Michael Gerson, the Washington Post called it “Journalism’s slow, sad death.” Come on, I can do better than that. Gerson even dredged up a phrase that hasn’t seen sunlight since my college textbooks were published half a century ago.But in these harried, information-overload times when Americans are gravitating to short, sensationalist stories, partisan rants, and celebrity gossip, I had to get your attention. The “journalistic tradition of nonpartisan objectivity,” he calls it.
Just some of the grief for the news biz: • Publishers whose print products are hemorrhaging readers and ad dollars have yet to figure out an online business model that works.
Even the Columbus Dispatch has slashed its statehouse coverage, and it’s published a couple of blocks away Ohio’s capital city!
• And if you think things are dire in the newspaper world, you should hang out in the offices of American news magazines. News & World Report doesn’t even offer print editions any more, save for monthly rankings of colleges, cars and the like.
While this turned some of them haughty and indifferent to stories of interest to young people and ethnic communities, it comforted readers, viewers, and listeners that somebody, somewhere was asking questions and checking facts.
Now, as one content manager told the Pew Project, news consumers must judge the veracity of reports for themselves, allowing for “all sorts of unfiltered, untrained, and unethical yahoos to donate public comments.” That is a bit harsh, but, as the Pew Project concluded, “power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions.
As Louis Menand wrote in the November 2 New Yorker magazine’s “Talk of the Town,” “The market for news is narrowing down to those who need an ideological fix” in a media spectrum in which “bias is increasingly taken for granted.” I, on the other hand, have always delighted in picking up the paper and reading the unexpected — carefully vetted and artfully written stories about all sorts of things I didn’t even know were happening — rather than searching out, over and over again, viewpoints that I already share. But when they tried to charge readers for this content, few people paid.