The future of news?

While the chattering classes on cable and the overpaid ‘anchors’ on network news suck up the air, they don’t often acknowledge the sources for that news about which they chatter so much. They are not reporters; they talk about what actual reporters have written. The television class get their news from print – mostly newspapers. In fact, mostly four or five newspapers – The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The LA Times, Chicago Trib – a few others. The congressional journals – like The Hill, Hotline, CQ – are essential to their schtick too, but as well reported as they are, their subject is congress and only congress.

Eric Alterman’s Think Again column last week looked – yet again – at the erosion of good professional investigative reporting, and examined – yet again – what if anything replaces it.

A few highly motivated individuals and organizations have attempted to fill the gap by founding new nonprofit media organizations. These include:

  • The investigative team of reporters created by Propublica, which is funded by the civic-minded billionaires Herb and Marion Sandler and headed by Paul E. Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal
  • The Center for Independent Media, headed by David Bennahum, a former writer at Wired
  • The creation of a series of local-news-oriented partnerships with journalism schools like those at Columbia and the City University of New York, or CUNY, which employ faculty and students to cover stories that are no longer economically affordable for local newspapers
  • Too many other small and still incipient ventures to mention

. . .  With the core news function of for-profit media increasingly on life support in the United States, we need to find ways to preserve investigative journalism

. . .

He points to countries who invest in a vigorous press, something the United States doesn’t do, likely  because Americans are hostile to the idea.

. . .  But as University of Illinois professor and tireless crusader for media democracy Robert McChesney and John Nichols point out:

we looked at the Economist magazine, and they rank every country in the world on how democratic it is and how open its governance is, how little corruption there is, how free people are, their civil liberties. … and the top six countries they ranked as the freest, most democratic countries were just about the six heaviest press-subsidizing nations in the world. The United States ranks well below them. Then we looked at Freedom House, a conservative group whose whole mission is to monitor government censorship and . . . it ranks every country in the world on how free the private press are in each of these countries every year. … Well you go down their list of the six freest private presses in the world and they’re pretty much in the six most heavy press-subsidizing nations that have those vibrant freest press systems. The United States is tied for 21st.

From earlier in the column:

Americans currently pay about $1.35 each in tax dollars to support noncommercial media, compared to about $25 in Canada, Australia, and Germany; nearly $60 in Japan; $80 in Britain; and more than $100 in Denmark and Finland. A similar fee in the United States would yield as much as $35 billion every year.

Thoughtful stuff – from someone who knows his stuff. (I am a serious fan.)

17 responses to “The future of news?

  1. Pingback: The future of news? | Whatever Works inn university

  2. shortbuswonderkid

    How much does the Average American spend in taxes to build better bombs? Or how does it compare to keeping our prisons filled with minor-drug offenses? How much are we investing into Ethynol instead of Hydrogen? etc. It is The Peoples’ fault for sleeping at the wheel, and no one elses.

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    • People don’t seem to complain about the bigger bombs or the 1000+ military bases – but public media and renewable fuels are, apparently, communism. Also gay.

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  3. Pingback: The Wacko Right Has Lost it’s Giblets « A Feather Adrift

  4. Ms. Holland,

    I have to admit I don’t know where you are going with this non commercial media issue and what fee would yield $35 Billion?

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    • I think it would be considered an ad valorum tax and I imagine what the actual amount should be and what it would yield is open to discussion.

      But we know that our current models of journalism – especially investigative journalism – are failing and failure will be catastrophic for us.

      I’m sure you would disagree vehemently and find it socialist. Just like garbage collection and street lights.

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  5. Nearly all our current problems can be blamed on the for-profit (and, thus, for sale) media. It doesn’t matter what the beautiful airhead says during “the news.” Whether shown to be right or wrong, once something is presented in a manner approximating news, it becomes accepted as news. An extremely questionable conclusions is presented as fact, only to be proven false. That the “anchor” doesn’t resign in disgrace says everything.

    Journalistic standards are anathema to the 24 hour news cycle. If one agency waits for confirmation on a story, the “scoop” is lost. The extra hour it would take for, say, Lou Dobbs to find that a primary source for his story on scary Meskins is a white supremacist website would mean he might have come in second in his imagined race to expose La Reconquista.

    Obviously not one of the beautiful people, Lou Dobbs represents the other group from which news anchors are drawn: old white men with a poorly disguised right-wing bent.

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    • Re Dobbs – not such a disguised bent any more, as FOX is giving him a show, albeit on their business chanell which at last look attracts something like 300,000 viewers. But hey, it’s a gig!

      And I agree with every word you said.

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  6. Ms. Holland,

    ” I’m sure you would disagree vehemently and find it socialist. ”
    I hate it when you read my mind.

    ” Just like garbage collection and street lights. ”
    Strawman.

    But seriously, yet another $35 Billion taken out of the private sector. Bad economics.

    ” But we know that our current models of journalism – especially investigative journalism – are failing and failure will be catastrophic for us. ”
    I agree that much of what is out there is crap, but the press is supposed to be independent of Government. We have plenty of government propaganda now. Just how do you believe the press can be investigative, when it depends on government for funding? And remember, someday Republicans will get back full control of government. Which means from your point of view, all of these government press corps would turn into FoxNews.

    As much as I detest MSNBC because they lie constantly, they are an important opposition outlet, when my party is in power. If they and the Daily Kos and the Puffington Post and the NY Times can’t do as good a job as FoxNews at keeping an eye on enemy politicians, that’s your problem.

    Although I argue that they did a hell of a job of exaggerating the corruption of Republicans in Congress in 06, so that your Democrats could grab power.

    Actually it’s not that ‘your’ media doesn’t do a good job exposing Republicans, it’s more that they do not have enough customers to make it pay as Fox does.

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    • [But seriously, yet another $35 Billion taken out of the private sector. Bad economics. ]

      But Alan, that $35b goes right back into the economy keeping news operations alive.

      As for media that actually make money, FOX doesn’t even come close. The NYTime sells three times as many papers in one day as FOX news has viewers on their silly business channel.

      What Rush named hte ‘mainstream media’ and complained bitterly about for 20 years? That is the media that has been successful, has made money and has attracted the gresatest numbers of readers/viewers and advertisers. In other words, people have voted for mainstream media with their dollars.

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  7. I’m not sure if the “democracy rankings” of the Economist and Freedom House are quite reliable: After all, they are part of the corporate media, too!

    Regarding public financing, it may be a good idea, but it must be done so that the press can remain free and not become an arm of the government.

    I’m not too familiar with the American media. Has it really become that bad?

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    • D.I.D. – yes, it has become that bad. Newspapers along with newsmagazines are bleeding dollars. The loss of classified ads and car advertisiting and real estate – death knell for the papers. And online content is killing hte mags.

      But those things are pretty much true around the world too. What is different here is that digital media – tv, radio etc – are entirely corporate owned, are no longer loss leaders as they once were, but are profit centers. And missing blond girls or political conflict squeeze out actual news. And the owners like it that way.

      The old distraction – bread and circuses, bread and circuses. When that’s all people care about, those in power can do anything they want.

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  8. Ms. Holland,

    I should not further answer you until I research the facts, but it was my view that the profitability of the NYTimes has been in serious trouble for years. There may or may not have the 3 times customers that Foxnews has viewers, as you say, but I remember stories in years past of them doing some serious cost cutting because those customers you mention were not generating the profits of yesteryear. With out profits, you fail. I must read up on it again.

    Good old Rupert Murdoch, whatever you want to say about him, knows how to make a profit. When your businesses don’t lose money, you can do things like buy the Wall St. Journal and go head to head against the NY Times.

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    • of course the NY Times is losing dollars. Every newspaper in the world is losing dollars – craigslist, vehix, zillow – killing them, some slower than others. But for 140 years, Americans have – and still do – turn to institutions like the NYT for the real news. The kind with details. And historical context. The kind that has proofreaders and editors and factcheckers on staff. The kind that maintains bureaus around the world and sends reporters into every war zone. Like John Burns or Dexter Filkins who between them spent 20 years in Afganistan and Iraq. You know, real reporters.

      Sure Rupert knows how to make money. That’s what he does – news isnt’ his business, money is. And by the way, his NY Post has been bleeding a coupl e of hundred million every year, but Rupert has ketp it going for whatever reason. The NY Daily News makes its own money. The Post doesn’t.

      Kind of like the Washington Times with it 88,000 subscribers and has never made a dime – but that’s okay, cuz it’s owner, Rev Sung Young Moon and his Unification Church support it. That’s conservative media.

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    • By the way, WSJ and NYT have been going head to head for half a century before ole Rupert came on the scene.

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  9. Ms. Holland,

    ” By the way, WSJ and NYT have been going head to head for half a century before ole Rupert came on the scene. ”

    Thank you for the update, but I was aware of that.

    The WSJ and NYT are competing in ways they did not before. This link will explain my meaning.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/apr/26/wall-street-journal-new-york-times-rivalry

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    • For a media watcher like me, this is not news – it was quite a big story when WSJ began a metro section. Whether they end up actually competiting in this area is to be seen – they may compliment each other and elvis knows, NY is very big city. But – as the article points out – for Murdoch it’s personal; he can’t bear having someone bigger and better than him. As it also points out, he’s a bully.

      Whatever the outcome, we are the losers – as I’ve said to you before, pre- Murdoch, the WSJ was a national treaure, one of our finest papers. He’s already turning it into a weapon. It will be less of a paper thanks to Rupert.

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