I have stumbled across a couple of musings on the MSM from different perspectives that throw into sharp relief a lot of the problems with our present media that we regularly discuss on this site. First, from my friend Jim Wright comes an insider’s view of the biggest Alaska story to hit since Sarah Palin: “Alaskan Middle School Students Scare Moose to Death“.
A couple of kids threw rocks at a yearling moose that had wandered onto an Alaskan middle school campus, spooking the moose into running full tilt into a fence post, breaking its neck. Following the new tabloid business model, reportage has been sloppy, news feeds and recycled content from the likes of AP amplify mistakes, and as Jim put it:
As usual, both the so-called professional mainstream media, and the blogosphere are more interested in hyperbole, hysteria, headlines, outrage, self righteousness, and hype. With stories like these, and increasingly all stories, it’s getting harder and harder to tell mainstream reporting from the tabloids.
Of course, the sensationalist reporting got the wingnuts at PETA hall stirred up about this “tragedy”. Jim again:
First this is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when a child goes to sleep hungry because she’s too poor to get more than one decent meal a day. A tragedy is when a child dies from whooping cough or measles, or mumps, or some other easily preventable disease because his idiot parents are too ignorant to get him immunized. A tragedy is when children die because their parents are drug addicts or drunks or just too damned stupid to slow down on icy Alaskan roads. A dead moose isn’t a tragedy, it’s an unfortunate accident. Nothing more. Over 200 hundred moose related accidents happened in the Valley alone last year, most hit by cars. A number of those because drivers were going too fast, or talking on their phones, or daydreaming, or eating a cheese burger instead of paying attention. Strangely though, few call for those people to be tarred and feathered. Hypocrisy in action.
Sloppy and sensationalist reporting like this is slowly eroding the credibility of the MSM, though bloggers who do not fact check are not doing themselves any favors, either.
I strongly suggest that you compare Jim’s account (his child is a student at the school in question, and the moose in question may be the one he encountered in his yard this winter) of the incident with several online “news” sources and come to your own conclusions.
At some point, the only reason to read the big newspapers may be for their non-news content, such as their book reviews. That brings me to the second article on this theme I encountered recently, by Garth Hallberg at The Millions. Professional reviewers hired by the likes of the New York times do a much better job than on-line sites, don’t they? Well, some bloggers disagree, but the literary world stands behind the likes of the New York Times, right?
Somewhere in mists of our pre-digital past, writers and editors worked to make the Paper of Record the first and last word on the U.S. book market (a favorable blurb from the Times, when available, will generally be the most prominent on a paperback jacket), but the enterprise has been coasting on its reputation ever since.
People have been noticing the naked Emperor for a long time, over 40 years, in this instance:
The origin story of The New York Review of Books, America’s preeminent literary-critical publication, dates back to the 1963 printers’ strike, when Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein realized that they didn’t miss one jot or tittle of the Times’ book coverage. They set out to create a literary supplement that would be missed were it ever to fold, and succeeded brilliantly.
Before the Internet, the start-up costs for publications such as The New York Review of Books or a novel news outlet were daunting – in terms of the Five Forces, barriers to entry were too high. With the advent of electronic publishing, those barriers came crashing down. Mainstream Media had a narrow window in which to adjust and adapt to the new reality. I think that in both hard news and cultural pieces, the momentum has been lost by the old guard.
The only mysteries left to solve are how long the Old Media will survive in its current incarnation (the viewing and reading habits of the Boomers will keep it afloat for at least some time until their relevance to advertisers is exhausted) and in what truncated form it will live on after being hacked to pieces by its own ineptitude.