Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Murdoch Warns Against Complacency

In Journalism on July 10, 2005 at 8:49 pm

On April 13, News Corporation’s CEO Rupert Murdoch gave a speech to the Society of Newspaper Editors warning them to stop ignoring “digital” media.

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.

It is certainly true that, as Murdoch says, quoting from a Carnegie report, that, “(t)here’s a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today, and it isn’t about TV anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or embedded reporters.”

Yes, partially it is the new demands, based on the new possibilities of the new media. But a much of the reason readers (and, increasingly, former readers) of newspapers are turning away is the attitude of its practitioners, and of those from other traditional media. For instance, I was once told by an editor, in dead seriousness, “You have to write for Joe Six-Pack.” She explained that a journalism professor had told her graduate seminar that. Oh, a journalism professor! In a graduate seminar! Well, then, it must be true. This kind of arrogance, especially when it’s coming from someone who is categorically incapable of writing down to anyone, is alienating, and makes for bad journalism.

The other thing Murdoch does not touch on, that I think explains a lot of the alienation, is that traditional media outlets (radio stations, newspapers, television) are almost all small cogs in large, publicly-held machines. And those machines have shareholders. And, after the junk bonds of the 80s and the high-tech superfreakout of the 90s, those shareholders want big profits and they want them now. So, media outlets have been chopping out the “deadwood,” like bureaus. That means that on average, between one and no people are covering, say, the entire continent of Africa; that there are fewer or no statehouse reporters; fewer or no domestic bureaus. And that, gentle reader, means that there is LESS NEWS.

So even if every single newspaper in the country starts wildly plugging their editorial staff into every iPod and PDA and PSP and curling iron they can buy, it won’t matter one bit if A) they treat their readers like idiots and B) they cannot get the news.

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