Teaching Examples


10 media trends that should disturb us
December 18, 2006, 6:08 pm
Filed under: business, education, journalism, teaching

Peter R. Kann, chairman of Dow Jones (owner of The Wall Street Journal), wrote last week about disturbing trends in the mass media:

  1. The blurring of the lines between journalism and entertainment.
  2. The blurring of lines between news and opinion.
  3. The blending of news and advertising, sponsorships or other commercial relationships.
  4. The problems and pitfalls inherent in pack journalism.
  5. The issue of conflict and context.
  6. The exaggerated tendency toward pessimism.
  7. The growing media fascination with the bizarre, the perverse and the pathological.
  8. Social orthodoxy, or political correctness.
  9. The media’s short attention span.
  10. The matter of power.

Kann explains each one (with admirable brevity) in his article in The Wall Street Journal (via I Want Media).

Nothing here is new. All 10 “trends” are serious, but I would argue that all 10 of these (with the possible exception of No. 8) have been evident — and just as disturbing — since I was a journalism student 20 years ago!

It’s worthwhile to study and circulate this list, though, because all of these conditions of the field of journalism must be acknowledged before they can be improved upon. I like the list as a discussion starter for students too.

The trouble is, I don’t see organizations such as Kann’s doing much, if anything, to improve any of these conditions.

Why doesn’t Dow Jones take a leadership role in turning this ship around?

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5 Comments so far
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I talked to several people about the article in question, and those who weren’t simply gorging on the red meat of journalistic mythos also noted the lack of prescriptions for combatting those trends. And yes, those trends were around 20 years ago, when big consolidations were sweeping the nation (at one point I had a copy of the final Houston Post ever printed).

Comment by Murley

If you look at this from a historical perspective, you’ll find it really wasn’t so long ago that we had stories about creatures on the moon and other bizarre (and sometime made-up or exaggerated) fare on the front pages of major American newspapers. In fact, some historians argue that our sacred journalistic dogma of objectivity was actually the result of a business decision, that is, being able to get more subscribers than the partisan papers that abounded before the turn of the century.

Of all the trends you listed, there’s one in particular that line producers should watch: “The growing media fascination with the bizarre, the perverse and the pathological.”

I don’t know if it’s “growing,” but let’s face it: that stuff gets major page views. Look at the world’s ugliest dog, Fark fare, gross-out stories and other stuff that gets linked off Digg, Drudge and others. As demand for more page views heightens, publications are going to have to resist putting the “weird news” more prominently on their sites in order to retain their integrity.

That bizarre content reminds me of cheesecake. It’s fun to have in moderation, but too much, and you’ll end up in the E.R.

Comment by Danny Sanchez

The public’s taste for the bizarre is nothing new — sensationalistic stories about weirdness and heinous crimes were what sold those fabulously successful “penny” newspapers in the U.S. in the 1830s and 1840s. Maybe we seek out even weirder things today, in our media-saturated world, but the taste itself is not new.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

As someone who has done journalism in the past my biggest concern of them all, trend-wise, is probably No. 10.

Freelancers like myself, in the past five years or so, have started A) getting shafted by crazy rights grabbing contracts or B) shunted aside for wire copy. I don’t want to sound like I have a grudge or am negative, but I saw a lot of crazy stuff happen that left me and a few of my young peers (who no longer write news) a bit baffled.

This might speak to the average age of those working in newsrooms — ie. aging boomers who want to hold onto whatever straw of power they can clutch before they finally give in and retire. Or it might speak to the fact that advertising revenue has been in steady decline in sometime and the name of the game is pleasing the advertisers, as that’s the easiest way to ‘win’ from a corporate, money-making perspective.

Whatever the case, it’s all rather sad. I really feel, some days, that the media is getting more and more out of touch with the average person. Hence, perhaps, the rise of blogging and content niches.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out over the course of the next five years, and if some of these blogging networks start purchasing, say, magazines and whatnot.

Comment by zhoule

Zhoule, you raise a really interesting point. I remembr back in the mid-’90s when newspapers were realizing that they could not put their freelancers’ stuff online because they did not own the rights. They promptly rewrote the contracts. There was a lot of sturm und drang, but in the end, mostly the freelancers are stuck with the “we own it all” contracts, as I understand it.

What has not been much written about, or discussed, in the wider journalism community is how this has affected the quality of the content in the newspapers, and maybe other news outlets as well.

Maybe this change is at the root of why so many local papers seem to be 90 percent wire copy and syndicated columns — the utter loss of the “local” in local newspapers.

I know full well that the rates of pay were so low for freelance material, the only way you could make a living at freelancing was to sell the same story to multiple (non-competing) newspapers. Well, the Web took that “non-compting” away, and the new contracts made the multiple sales impossible.

I think more people turn to blogs and such because the local newspaper today is just completely generic.

Comment by Mindy McAdams




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