Wednesday, December 17, 2008

journalism-isms and the decline of newspapers

Part of the title of Tim Cavanaugh's "rant" in Reason on newspapers and the reasons for their decline...

If there's any reason to be saddened by the long, humiliating death of the great American newspaper, it may be that we'll no longer have a treasure trove of tough-sounding catch phrases about the news biz....But is anybody paying attention to journalismisms anymore?

From there, Cavanaugh charts a course "to rethink, or just remember, some of the choicest phrases".

This business is about more than the bottom line. Only decades of monopoly power in (still) relatively secure regional markets could have turned an economic absurdity into a universally believed truth—in this case, the alleged truism that good reporting gets done by people who can follow their noses while being shielded from pressure by advertisers, irate subscription cancelers, and the like....

That's yesterday's news
. Throughout most of the last 15 years, papers avoided the practice of examining Web traffic for guidance about which stories do and do not attract attention. Too bad: They might have learned a lot earlier that the bulk of traffic goes to stories that are more than a week old....

When a reporter's mother tells him she loves him, he still checks the story out.
This chestnut from the days of fedoras and manual typewriters has an air of unsentimental fun and is a good indicator of the kind of macho self-glorification print journalists relish to this day. It's also patently false, based on the fiction that all sources are equally reliable or unreliable.

If it bleeds it leads. Would that this truism were actually true! With a notable foreign policy exception, America's broadsheets are uninterested in putting violence on Page 1....The difficulty is not on the supply side, as most major metropolitan areas generate a murder every day or so. Nor, as Web traffic demonstrates, is it on the demand side. The market failure occurs in editorial departments....

We need a Chinese wall between news and opinion.
...The separation between the opinion/editorial/letters room and the news-gathering room is designed on the one hand to give maximum play to a variety of opinions while on the other ensuring that...a reader "cannot detect" the political views of the reporter. In practice, this approach achieves neither goal...

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Print journalists love to believe they are challengers of the powerful. [But they just embrace different sorts of powerful.]

It's too bad we can't fire our readers. You don't hear this one in mixed company, but the joke about "firing our readers" was one I heard on at least three occasions at the L.A. Times, until I finally realized it wasn't a joke....The Times shed 40,000 readers during the last two years, nearly 300,000 during the last 10. The customer is firing himself.


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