Mainstream news media: not dead yet
To survive in the Digital Age, journalism needs to be simultaneously fast-paced and substantive, snarky and thought-provoking. Or, at the very least, it must find some middle ground where illuminating investigative pieces and Mel Gibson telephone call mash-ups can coexist.
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The Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2010 report found that, while reported journalism is contracting and commentary and analysis is growing, 99 percent of the links on blogs circle back to the mainstream press. (Just four outlets – BBC, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post – account for 80 percent of all links.)Skip to next paragraph
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The report concludes that new media are largely filled with debate that is dependent on the shrinking base of reporting coming from old media. The same report included polling data showing that 72 percent of Americans now feel that most news sources are biased in their coverage, and 70 percent feel overwhelmed rather than informed by the amount of news and information they’re taking in.
I’m not advocating a return to some supposed halcyon period before the Internet. I’m still a product of my generation. I like the alacrity of the Web and admire its ability to connect people around the world, and to aggregate and spread information at lightning speed. Its warming glow gives me probably 90 percent of the news I consume, and I enjoy commenting on articles that friends post on Facebook.
But I hope it won’t make me sound prematurely aged to say that sometimes the Internet exhausts me. That I’m troubled by how frequently I find myself sucked into the blogging vortex of endless linkage, circuitous kvetching, and petty media infighting. I often emerge from these binges hours later, bleary-eyed and less informed than when I started.
Best of both worlds
The media need to be quick and smart. They should tell us something new, rather than simply recycle outrage. Some of the watchdog role has been shouldered by nonprofit outfits like the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica – which has recruited a number of top investigative reporters with a mission of producing journalism in the public interest – as well as smaller nonprofit ventures springing up around the country.
Many old-school media outlets are moving, with varying degrees of success and profitability, toward a primarily Web-focused model. The “Top Secret America” series may be the best example to date of a deeply reported piece that probably could not have been achieved without the resources and support of a major news operation, but which is also packaged appealingly for the Web.
All of this seems to indicate that, despite reported journalism’s painful contractions, a few small inroads are being made toward creating a new model for news. Solid reporting and thoughtful analysis shouldn’t be the sole province of a dying medium.
Meghan Lewit is a writer/editor in Los Angeles.