Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Media war blindness. I have been paying attention to what the blogosphere has been saying about media ineptness regarding the war on terror. But I had been thinking lately that we need to get beyond just observing it and try to figure out why it's happening and what we can do about it. Note: this means that certain people need to admit that there is a problem.
Joe Katzman over at Winds of Change has a great post today where he is talking about that very thing. At least people are trying to analyze and search for cause. The fix will have to come later I guess.
Last week I also saw a great article by Steven den Beste digging into the heart of why the media appears to lean to the left. I can't link to the post directly, but you can go there and search the archive for it.
Here is the gist anyway.
Den Beste thinks that the problems started in the 60s and early 70s with Watergate. The problem wasn't the scandal itself, but how that affected the media industry. What happened was that two virtual unknowns became famous because of one breaking story. Suddenly every reporter in the world is trying to become the next Woodward, knowing that all it could take is that one story. Therefore sexing up of stories and creating stories where there are none becomes common place. Editors and executives didn't help things much, knowing that exaggerated stories and hype sells newspapers and commercial slots, so they encourage that type of reporting until it gets to the point where the NYT is actually allowing stories with major factual flaws and outright lies.
The tendency of the media (and the reporters themselves) to put the resources in areas where there are more stories, like currently the middle east, changed another tradition. Reporters no longer cover "beats." Beats were areas that a reporter covered all the time. They often didn't stray out of them, even when things were slow. You spent all of your time covering the Capital, or the technology business in Silicon Valley. When you were starting out you mentored under a guy in a particular beat so when the senior reporter left you already knew a lot about that beat. When all that went away, now reporters cover subjects they know little about. Read that post from Katzman above on the poor reporting in Iraq. It displays this last point in full technicolor.
These days I can tell how bad an article is going to be just by looking at the author. What's the solution here? Do we remove the author's name from the articles, so that reporters are just a member of a team and can't expect fame and fortune for breaking the big story?

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