Journalism is Dead

Edward R. Murrow.
Edward R. Murrow.

I knew this was going to happen. I could see it coming 1,000 column inches away. It’s ironic that I felt that things like blogs would help kill journalism and here I am, writing a blog. I’m not talking about the death of newspapers. The Internet killed them and newspapers failed to read the writing on the wall. Their insipid, intrusive ads that they sell and with which they inundate consumers are a different topic for a different paragraph. Keep reading.

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and mainstream television are all to blame for the death of journalism. It’s ironic that the one medium that I think still gets storytelling right is the one that’s dying because of a lack of foresight and unwillingness to adapt to technology and the information revolution.

Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’ve lived more than most, or at least some. Maybe I’m not impressed easy. Maybe my memory is longer and my capacity for trivia is greater.

The fact that a yo-yo with a Twitter account can incite panic or a riot because they don’t know how to tell a story is unreal to me. And the populace believes it rather than getting their news and information from a reputable source.

Here’s what I think I think.

I like to think that there are people in the world who are nowhere near smart enough to concoct such things. As I wrote previously, I am not a conspiracy theorist. Taken individually much of what has happened in the last 34 years or so can be interpreted as progress. I pick 1981 because that’s the year my family got cable. I’ll get to my conspiracy theory in a minute.

Walter Cronkite.
Walter Cronkite.

When I was a child we had four TV channels – the three major networks, CBS, NBC and ABC and the local PBS station. Eventually we got a UHF channel. My father would get home by 5:30 p.m. and my stay-at-home mom would have dinner on the table. We ate dinner as a family. By 6:00 p.m. we were watching the local news on TV. I usually did homework, but my father watched the local news, followed by the national news. There was no debate. It didn’t matter what else was on. The UHF channel was great for irreverent syndicated programs that appealed more to children than the news. It didn’t matter. From 6 to 7 p.m., the news was on our 19-inch Zenith tube TV.

My father read the newspaper. You couldn’t get his attention until he was done with it. He read it cover-to-cover, front to back, back to front. He kept his politics close to the vest and never divulged for whom or what he voted or endorsed. All I knew was he was a staunch independent.

We watched what the networks decided we should watch. The TV programming executives created the dramas and the situation comedies and the actors of the day carried out these teleplays the same Bat Time on the same Bat Channel every week. We lived our lives around the TV guide.

Early on, pioneers like Edward R. Murrow informed radio listeners from coast-to-coast. Murrow helped take down Joseph McCarthy. Murrow knew in 1958 that television news would suffer for entertainment’s sake. How prophetic.

Gabe Dalmath, the face of local news that I grew up on.
Gabe Dalmath, the face of local news that I grew up on.

I grew up on Walter Cronkite – the most trusted man in America. If Walter said it, you knew it was true. Our local newscasters in Rochester, N.Y., were longtime residents and longtime journalists. Unfortunately, the sports guy is now an elected official. Actually, I am quite alarmed at how many Rochester area TV news people have gone into politics.

As I have become fluent in social media, I find the criticism of FOX News laughable. Not because the criticism isn’t warranted, but because “FOX News” is such a misnomer. There is no “news” offered. Sock puppets hosting shows that parade endless pundits and experts weighing in on world events with biased opinions (this goes for MSNBC or NBC News or whatever they’re calling it this week too) is not NEWS.

I was taught the definition of news included “right to know” and “need to know.” Instead of providing the information we need to know and have a right now to know, we are presented partisan information by competing networks.

Don’t get me started about local news. A morning news program in Sacramento recently featured a report on the dangers of tanning beds and the anchor proceeded to deliver the rest of the newscast, in studio, while wearing a floppy straw hat and sunglasses. Her credibility went out the window and I turned the channel.

Network morning new programs have been a joke for sometime. When journalists get paid seven figures, insert themselves into the their stories and care more about what the Kardashians are doing, they aren’t journalists anymore. They are entertainers.

CBS Sunday Morning has to be the best and only news magazine on TV that’s worth watching that still does it “right.”

I still get a Sunday paper. Well, sometimes. Paper guy/woman/boy/girl didn’t see fit to deliver one today. This seems to be the only place I can get any real news. Newspaper websites seem to have become a Petri dish for online advertising technology. It’s not my fault newspaper publishers missed the boat on the Internet and information revolution. To that end, newspaper web sites have become impossible to navigate and are organized in such a fashion, reading them and finding anything worthwhile is next to impossible.

I have a theory about common knowledge. Folks under a certain age, let’s say 30, don’t have the same common knowledge. Maybe I have one foot in two different worlds or eras. My capacity for remembering or knowing things that happened or existed in the early 1970s and being immersed in technology could be unique. It just seems like millenials don’t get pop culture history or references I think they should get nor do I think they each possess the same common knowledge we did as kids and young adults.

I believe this is because we had three freaking TV channels. We watched the same things. Our choices were limited. Movie going was also a common experience and seemed like certain movies became cultural phenomena. When was the last time you stood in line for a movie? When was the last time your went to a sold out movie? I’m sure it’s happened recently. I’m pretty sure it did with that Twilight tripe. I actually went to the midnight opening of Prometheus.

This lack of common knowledge, or at least my perceived lack of common knowledge comes from two things – the death of journalism and too many entertainment options. TV used to be appointment viewing. Now with On Demand and DVRs you plan your TV viewing around your schedule not your schedule around the TV schedule.

I remember when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out. We’d find out when the full-length version of the video was going to air on MTV and we ran to our houses at the appointed time just to see a short-film, music video. If you missed a movie in theaters you had to wait forever for the edited version to be shown on network TV. This is how I was introduced to James Bond films. Now, DVDs practically come out while the movie is still in theaters. You can buy some movies On Demand before they hit the big screen or while they are in theaters. On Demand, DVRs and online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime have transformed the viewing experience. I’m all for streaming programming over the Internet. I’m a big fan of it.

From Merriam-Webster…

Full Definition of NEWS

1
a :  a report of recent events

b :  previously unknown information <I’ve got news for you>

c :  something having a specified influence or effect <the rain was good news for lawns and gardens — Garrison Keillor> <the virus was bad news>

2
a :  material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast

b :  matter that is newsworthy

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom.
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom.

But as much as TV news tries to evolve and deliver what the people want, what I am discovering is people want crap. “What’s trending” is a phrase in the lexicon now. My new cable box tells me what’s trending on Twitter. Kind of neat. But I don’t think this is how to program a newscast. HBO’s The Newsroom demonstrated what it should be like, what it used to be. Damn the ratings, do the news well. Obviously that was a TV show and not reality. And the reality is folks are easily misdirected from the real topics they should care about with royal babies and reality TV attention whores.

It seems like the fake news or news satire gets it right. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, and now Last Week Tonight with John Oliver all seem to seek to inform while entertain. In their skewering of the news you can actually learn what the mainstream news refuses to deliver. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Stewart leaves and Colbert takes over The Late Show vacated by David Letterman.

Isis and Captain Marvel. SHAZAM!
Isis and Captain Marvel. SHAZAM!

For those of us of a certain age, Isis was the second half of a kids TV show that included Captain Marvel. Shazam! What do we know about this group ISIS halfway around the world? Not a whole helluva lot. Guess what? We should.

Vice President Joe Biden and Walter.
Vice President Joe Biden and Walter. Er, Walter and Vice President Joe Biden.

There is an American presidential election coming up in just over a year. The GOP and its constituents have been bitching about President Barack Obama for the better part of seven years. Have they produced a viable candidate who can wrestle control of the White House away from the Democrats? I wouldn’t know. Facebook and the news sources who post there spend most of their time demonizing the Republican candidates. As for the Democrats, the only person I know is running is Hillary Clinton. The other possibility I’ve recently heard about is Vice President Joe Biden who many publications are comparing to a comedian Jeff Dunham ventriloquist dummy. Bush, Clinton – it’s not a leap to think that the same small group of people has been and will be running the country for years on end.

If I would like to make an informed decision in the next election, I’ll have to do the research and hunt down the information myself. Either that or listen to the 42 messages Mitt Romney left on my answering machine the last time.

The one national cable news network that seemed to want to get it right, at least in the beginning, CNN, has become just as bad as the rest of them. And I cannot subject myself to the epileptic fit inducing crap with which they try to fill every inch of my TV screen. ESPN’s SportCenter has gotten just as bad. My eyes have no idea where to look.

And I have no idea where to find actual news I can use.

I promised a conspiracy theory. Maybe there is a Cabal somewhere, thanks to The Blacklist for the thought, that has spent half a century turning us into overweight, uninformed, easily entertained entertainment consumers in an effort to distract us from what’s really going on and actually caring about it. Some people have posited over the years that the Freemasons run the world, or at least America. Maybe there is a worldwide organization misdirecting everyone while they run things. Plenty of people think or even know George W. Bush and Dick Cheney manipulated congress and U.S. allies into going to war over weapons of mass destruction (which didn’t actually, you know, exist) when in fact some evil company called Halliburton and its private army needed to protect oil interests in the Middle East. Maybe it’s common knowledge that that indeed happen and I am naive.

If there was a reputable news source out there, maybe we’d all know and care about these things instead of what the Kardashians are doing.

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3 thoughts on “Journalism is Dead

  1. Since this was a highly amusing read, I’ll give you a clue you are too young to remember. My wife’s a retired five-time Emmy winner as a writer of TV news. She started in the wake of Watergate, when investigative journalism was still highly valued. But as Paddy Chayefsky explained in his prescient script for Network (1976), once the News Divisions were expected to regularly produce high ratings for ad revenue, in other words to be a profit generator instead of a public service, it was all over for journalism. This happened gradually throughout the 1980s.

    That’s why story value is now ranked by things like the quality of available footage, and why news channels and even local news is oriented to the products sold to their audience. Note the difference in commercials. Network news shows parade products for seniors, but The Daily Show’s commercial breaks hawk what people under 30 want.

    You didn’t mention radio. Public radio presents NPR, BBC and other sources of actual journalism, for a small but faithful audience. They still cover stories in depth, with less bias, the way I used to be able to see them on TV in the 50s and 60s.

    1. I’ve seen the film, although it’s been a long time. I am 45 and I have a long memory. I’m glad you found this amusing. As much as I try to write with tongue firmly planted in cheek, there’s twinge of sadness with this one.

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