Crumbling media

By Phil Plait | March 27, 2009 10:00 am

Recently, the science journal Nature had an article about the decline of mainstream media for science journalism. The Columbia Journal Review picked up on that, and posted an interesting article about ti themselves. It features a discussion of our very own Hive Overmind, Discover Magazine blogs, including statements by Carl Zimmer, who writes The Loom.

I actually don’t have too much to add here, mostly because I’ve said it before. Print media is dying, and people are analyzing it to death, but the cause is clear: for the most part, old media simply doesn’t get new media. They don’t understand it. They tried to take their content and just dump it online, but that didn’t work, and it took them too long to figure out why. Seed magazine understood it and created ScienceBlogs, and our own Discover Magazine figured it out as well.

I love reading magazines and newspapers, but you know what? Things change. I bet there are lots of folks who miss elevator operators and phones with real dials, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being flippant here. In this case there is a major economic impact as well as major impacts on people’s lives. But just because something is pervasive and liked doesn’t mean it has to or will last forever. The Internet changed things suddenly and catastrophically (by some viewpoints), and this is a non-reversible process. There was plenty of time to adapt, to evolve, but it was too hard for too many big media to do it, but easy enough for individuals. That’s why so many scientists blog now.

Print media is the first, but it won’t be the last. Movies and radio are still trying to fight new media instead of embrace it, and their day is coming too.

That’s not a threat. That is the sound of inevitability.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Piece of mind

Comments (63)

  1. Todd W.

    Typo: “posted an interesting article about ti themselves”

  2. BMurray

    But do online publications like Seed and Discover produce actually advance what is ostensibly their topic? I cursory review of the most popular blogs on these sites suggest that they are dominated by relatively short articles on controversial politics that are only tangentially related to the science they claim to be about. Pharyngula is about biology? Give me a break — it hasn’t been about biology for years, weekly cute cephalopod pictures notwithstanding.

    The problem with measuring success by readership without measuring the quality of content is that you are only measuring the capacity to pander to a huge audience’s desire for circus acts. And the shorter and more likely to inspire righteous indignation the better. Indeed, in an effort to “keep up”, a lot of failing print media are taking lessons from the Internet and further poisoning their mandate — compare a Scientific American from 1985 to today, for example (Hofstadter, Gardner, Dewdney, where’d you go?).

    The last five articles in this blog are:
    * Crumbling media
    * Creationism is bad religion
    * Meteorites from the asteroid over Sudan
    * Texas: From saved to doomed in just 6 hours!
    * Scientists in the movies

    That’s one Astronomy post in five. And a great one, but great because it links to a much less popular and much more interesting site.

  3. IVAN3MAN

    Todd W., you beat me to it! :-)

  4. Todd W.

    @BMurray

    Actually, the Texas: From saved to doomed in just 6 hours post was also about astronomy. Specifically, it covered a political move to question conclusions of astronomy.

    Also, Bad Astronomy does not purport to be solely about astronomy, but rather includes how astronomy is abused, science and critical thought in general, and religion/politics, where those topics overlap with astronomy, science or critical thinking. It is also a personal blog, not a strict journalistic endeavor, so there are also opinion pieces.

  5. Ismael

    Well said, BMurray.

  6. Joe Meils

    As an ongoing experiment, I track news stories online and then take note of how long it takes a science story to surface in old “dead tree” media… Currently, the turnaround time seems to be three days. That may not sound like much, but if you are basing some of your investments on announcements from various electronic or pharmacutical manufacturing prospects… three days can make you, or break you in the stock market.

  7. ccpetersen

    BMurray, there’s a link over there where Phil explains what this blog is about. Over on the right side. Check it out.

    As for the media issue — the history of media is replete with these convulsions in delivery systems. This is another one — and those who recognize it and ride the wave will succeed. I’m not sure that what we’re seeing now in “new media” will be the final answer, but it’s interesting to watch.

  8. That is the sound of inevitability.

    Goodbye… Mister Anderson.

  9. Kevin

    Well, just look at CNN, who last year dumped their whole science and technology department. They lost a bunch of great people, including Miles O’Brien.

    But yeah, the “old ways” are slowly crumbling, due to technology. On a meteorology podcast I listen to, they have talked for a few years about how the television meteorology departments are being phased out (or down) and people better embrace the interwebs. In fact, where I live, for severe weather the TV meteorologists break in on local programming quickly with updates, but do more in depth stuff online. Last year during a outbreak, when I happened to be in the studio helping out, they were on air for about 10 minutes, but online via streaming video for 90.

    I know many people who have stopped getting print magazines for a few years now, because the information that can be found online is more up-to-date. Who needs to read a magazine which has a three or four month lead time, when you can get the latest and (sometime) greatest news online?

    I love reading Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, etc., but only for the articles. I sure don’t depend on them for news, because by the time the issue hits the stands, it’s old news.

    My local newspaper runs “current” news stories that I have found online days – or even weeks – before. I don’t even subscribe to the local paper, because I can get all I need online.

    It’s funny to see some of the media (as well as politicians and other high profile people) suddenly embracing Twitter and the like. They tout it as “the latest new thing” – but it might be new to them, because they don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in cyberspace around them. I’ve had a Facebook page for years, and it was actually the good Dr. Plait that got me Twittering back in 2007. To those of us who have been online for a while, this is old news. But to the actual news mediait’s a “newfangled contraption.” :)

    Media needs to accept with both hands the new reality, or they will be left for dead. And their deaths will be reported by the internet news. :)

    And it’s not only the media that needs to accept the change. The older people who are now running my local astronomy club do almost nothing with the internet. They even want to go back to printed monthly newsletters (being electronic saves us a couple grand each year in printing/mailing costs), and it doesn’t even occur to them to promote the club online (fortunately there are some of us who do, and the “club leaders” are so clueless, they don’t even realize it).

    So wake up, you old fuddy duddys. The future is now, and it’s coming for you!

  10. Cheyenne

    I think the old media’s problems are pretty important. AP/Reuters are struggling, the NY Times is cutting staff and payroll, major papers are closing down in large cities. Those “old media” do a large chunk of the overall reporting that is getting filtered up to the new media.

    I know the industry needs to evolve but everybody is getting their information for free now and there is less money available to spend on journalism in general. I think sites like Craigslist are great (well, and way creepy for some reasons) but they have killed an important revenue stream to the daily newspapers.

    And no, I offer no solutions. Just want to say that I think it’s a more important issue than the average Joe on the street might realize.

  11. Todd W.

    Print stuff is not bad. I like to read it when I’m on the train/bus to and from work each day. Or when I just want to sit down and read on my sofa, chair or bed. Print has its place. And there’s just something nice about turning pages between your hands.

  12. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    Also, books/magazines do not need batteries!

  13. I don’t understand what’s meant here by the difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media. Most of the astronomy stories I read come from ‘old’ media: sure I may read them on Universe Today or Eureka Science News, but they actually come from university press releases, NASA press conferences and the like. Again, sure, there are people with extensive contacts like Emily Lakdawalla who publish genuinely new material, but isn’t that what ‘old’ media people have always done?

    So, to be honest, I think 95% of what we get is pretty much described by “taking content and dumping it online”, provided that phrase is applied with judicious intelligence. And ‘old media’ organisations seem to be embracing new media: I read Paul Krugman’s blog under the umbrella of the NYT, just as I read yours under that of Discover Magazine. Neither of these publications are ones I would ever have bought in print, but they’re now getting hits from people worldwide.

    The other 5% is eyewitness Twitter reports and mobile phone pics and the like. These are good for random events like meteorites or disasters, but they will continue to need the 95% for context.

  14. Todd W.

    @IVAN3MAN

    Good point. And, they have a longer shelf-life than computers if treated well.

  15. Gary F

    I wouldn’t put the death of printed news in the same basket as elevator operators and rotary telephones. With blogs, you get only what you are interested in, and not much else. So I could look at nothing but astronomy blogs all day and remain ignorant of the economic crisis. But with a newspaper, you don’t just get what you’re interested in, you get all sorts of news, including stuff that might be important even if it’s not in your field. I worry that blogs might enable people to remain ignorant of important events even when they are highly knowledgable of certain specific fields of knowledge. Pushbutton elevators didn’t put blinders on people, but I worry that the new media might.

  16. Just because it’s online, doesn’t mean it’s better.

    Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better.

    I’m the same age as Phil, so I’m hardly old, although a university or high school student might think so.

    I like to look things up on-line. It’s fast, and with a little brain power applied, it’s efficient relative to researching something in a library.

    However, reading large articles online is a PITA. eBooks have not caught on for a reason – electronic is not a format that people like to read large single articles. Blogs and individual news items can be presented nicely in an online format because they tend to be short. Newspapers online are notoriously sucky because they’re not organized in a way that makes them easy to read.

    In my local paper I go for the headlines, the world news, then the city pages. I pull the sections out in that order.

    In the online version, I can get the headline news easy enough, but sorting the articles out for the other two is difficult. Thus, I still get a paper every day.

    Add to that the fact that there’s more to reading books, newspapers and magazines than just paging through the information… there’s ritual. Ever been sitting on the porcelain throne, reading a magazine or a paper while the guy in the next stall is beeping away on his iPod Sycophant or whatever the latest model is? What do you think of that?

    I read the paper in my big comfy chair in the morning, and that ritual is as much about sitting in the chair in peace as it is about getting whatever news can be gleaned from the paper. Ditto for reading books. I’ll probably take a newspaper until I absolutely cannot get one any more, if only for that reason. As a result, I probably read MORE of the articles in the paper. On-line, I only look at what I’m specifically looking for.

    On the drive to work, I listen to the radio news. Articles from the paper and radio that spark my interest get looked up online. I guess you might say that the newspaper and radio become a sort of index for the Internet (for me)

    A lot of “new media” is not well or effectively used. Twitter is 99 and 44/100ths crap. You sort through a lot of chaff to get the good stuff there. I know, I generate my share of the 99.44%

    I don’t watch any amount of TV and haven’t since the 80′s, so I’m not well qualified to speak about how that’s going. I’m guessing TV is getting pummelled by the internet because the internet offers the same usually-low-brow content, with much more easily avoided advertising.

    If DFtS was only available online, I’d have never read it, although I might have downloaded it for searching purposes when I needed to look something up. It’s also highly unlikely I would have paid for it, or would have paid a lot less. People are much more inclined to part with $ when there’s something substantial that can be touched and held. New media typically doesn’t offer that.

    Paper media has been around since what, 3000 BC? I feel pretty confident that new media is not going to push it out of the way any more than the mass production of the PC gave us the paperless office we were promised in the 70′s.

  17. Doc

    When one of my college professors (and thesis advisor) was in college himself, he had a summer job with the title of “computer”. He worked for the department of defense doing ballistic calculations with pencil and paper, 8 hours a day, 5+ days a week. He was one of many thousands with this kind of job.

    A few years later the word “computer” stopped being an occupation and started being a kind of calculating machine. A lot of people lost their jobs.

    As you said, things change. Sometimes entire categories of business become unworkable and vanish. How many door-to-door salesmen do you see? How about milkmen? Been to a typewriter repair shop lately? What about a shoe repair shop?

    Personally, I’m surprised that newspapers have lasted this long, and I expect broadcast and cable TV to go next.

  18. Swift

    BA said:
    I love reading magazines and newspapers, but you know what? Things change. I bet there are lots of folks who miss elevator operators and phones with real dials, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being flippant here. In this case there is a major economic impact as well as major impacts on people’s lives. But just because something is pervasive and liked doesn’t mean it has to or will last forever.

    You may be right Phil, but it also does sound flippant.

    And nothing against you or your blog specifically, but I don’t like Blogs. I don’t like the style, I find them hard to read, I find it much harder to find specific information from them, and a very large percent of the ones out on the web are just crap. Anyone who can type and get some space on the web is suddenly an expert. The death of print and newspapers may be a change that coming, but I don’t think it is a change for the better.

    And please, feel free to dismiss as just an old dog who can only learn a limited number of new tricks.

  19. Dammit! My buggy whip business is failing! I need a guvmint loan to keep it going!

    Uh, on the other hand, I sure will be pissed when people stop buying my books.

  20. Besides, you can rebrand print media to “Cellulose-Based Mass Storage”, slap a gigabyte label on it, and people will love it.

  21. Actually, given the state of marketing right now, books and newspapers can become “Organic Media”.

  22. I might add re: books….

    I don’t even like the trend toward paperbacks. I like hardcover books. I still have every hardcover book I’ve ever bought, but paperbacks just end up in the recycling eventually… and downloaded stuff sooner or later gets overwritten/lost/destroyed.

    DftS in hardcover was a great motivator to buy it :)

  23. Charles Boyer

    The web is to newspapers as the telephone was to the telegraph.

    In both cases, new technology buried old technology and the companies that relied on old tech did embrace and extend the new tech when they had a chance to do so.

    As for new media lacking the authority of old media, I would suggest that you dig up stories about William Randolph Hearst and yellow journalism and get back to us. That and people constantly complain of bias (one way or the other) in newspapers today.

    Secondly, it is quite frankly foolish to believe that newspapers do much original reporting other than their local metro and sports sections. The AP feeds them national and international news and very few if any have national and international correspondents. That’s second hand journalism too.

  24. Charles Boyer

    “old tech did embrace and extend”

    should be “did not

  25. Cheyenne

    @Evolving Squid- You know that discussion that people have “if your house burnt down and you could only save one thing what would it be?”.

    I’d honestly pick my collection of books (and yes, by-laws state that is “one thing” for the purpose of the question!). My pictures and music are all backed up in two places. I don’t have a sentimental attraction to much of anything else. Well, a couple things, but not before the books.

  26. bill ringo

    I also miss full service gas stations and lots of things analog.

  27. Heh heh…rotten kids are on my lawn again!

  28. TJ

    As the little fuzzy warm-blooded critters discovered at the K-T Boundary (they say): The smell of blood is the smell of opportunity.

  29. I agree with Cheyenne, I’d save the books (hope it’s a slow spreading fire). One of the best sites I’ve found combining web site and traditional journalism is The Guardian of London. Great articles, great blogs and a great podcast. they have many journalists that are dedicated solely to science. Ceck it out.

  30. Chip

    We live in weird times. In music, CDs are slipping but old fashioned newly reissued vinyl LPs are coming back (in rock, blues and jazz). Meanwhile downloads are growing, but in classical music they’re equal to out-of-print albums reissued on CD on demand. Classical people, usually older, like modern sound systems but a record library they can physically collect and pull off the shelf.

    We also have technomage stuff already in prototype form. In “6th sense” technology, your iPhone becomes your hands. Just point at a wall or the palm of your hand and project and enter the internet. This is going to grow I’m sure.

    Yet in the US, Europe and Japan people also like advanced+retro tech. For example, a lot of folks would consider this person very cool judging from the description: “She has the latest Apple computer and drives a 1955 Jaguar.”

  31. boneheadFX

    My personal philosophy towards technology has always been that a new idea/format/concept/whatever will always have good things and bad things about it. If the good things outweigh the bad things then I feel that we’re moving forward. My only problem tends to be when the opposite occurs (call forwarding is one example I can think of: “press 1 to speak to ___, press 2 to speak to ___, press 3 to speak to ___”……….AAAARGH!!!).

    As far as print media goes, I got my first internet account in 1997 and I have not purchased a single “dead-tree” newspaper since then, and I have not missed them one single moment since then, either.

  32. Pieter Kok

    I predict that when the dust has settled, there will be a slimmer, healthier print media that does not have as its priority to disseminate news, but rather provides more reflective and analytical essays. There will always be people who prefer to read an actual physical magazine, rather than a downloaded article on an ebook reader. You can also bring a $5 magazine to places where you don’t want to bring your $400 reader, e.g., the bath.

  33. IVAN3MAN

    I stumbled upon this topical image…

    The Daily News Crumble
    Image credit: Metaprinter.com

  34. Greg C

    I worked at a major daily for 13 yrs. They did it to themselves, all they had to do was transition the content and charge for it. I have to admit, it was a rush when they cranked up the presses on a full run. The entire building rumbled.

  35. This topic was covered a while ago on Search Engine, one of the CBC’s podcasts. Jesse did a pretty good job of nailing the issues; if I commented, all I’d do is parroting him. Click the link in my name for the episode.

  36. mk

    apologies… just testing.

  37. mk

    Damn! I lost an entire post. Hate when that happens.

  38. Wes Rand

    Part of old (printed) media’s problem is a slow reaction to technological changes (slow and conservative management worked for 100 years or more — not surprising that slow and conservative management was slow and conservative in reshaping itself.) But a larger problem is the draining of revenue. Old media is/was underwritten by display ads and classifieds. Without finding a new revenue model it won’t matter how popular old/new media is with readers — journalism as we knew it will disappear. News journalism, at least, is already a shadow of its former self.

  39. Whoops, me bad grammar. Pretend I’ve fixed it, and in its place written something 10x wittier…

  40. Fazor

    Well, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t offer my opinion on this topic. I never did follow print media much growing up; never read the paper, didn’t have any magazine subscriptions. So I’m in no position to talk about the *decline* in the quality of media coverage . . . not that I often refrain from doing so on the forums . . . but I can say that the overall lack of quality journalism is not only a trait of science articles.

    I’ll also repeat my bad journalism example-of-the-moment; CNN.com’s shockingly long front page article that covers a study that shows that people who own pets sometimes trip over them (In my mind, a finding as shocking as saying “Study finds that people who own chairs sometimes sit on them”). And kudos to the CDC for completing said study.

    People are less likely to read this stuff? Shocking.

  41. A Journalist

    There is a SIGNIFICANT difference between journalism and blogging. And it’s the most important one.

    Blogging is taking the news and putting a personal spin on it. Dash of pun here, sprinkle of cynicism there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this blog. But it isn’t where I go for my news, and it shouldn’t be considered the news.

    Journalism is an art, and it is a vital one to the success of our country. Journalists are the people who call out the government. They do the research, get the interviews, and gather evidence to show what the government is doing right and what they are doing wrong. Look back in the last ten years at all of the controversies and scandals. Any journalist will tell you that those stories weren’t written to sell papers or to be outrageous. They were written because it is the job of journalists to call people out when they are doing the greater public an injustice. They publish articles in the hopes of inspiring change. And they do. Impeachments, firings, new laws, greater awareness of social problems… it’s all because someone in the news media saw the importance of a story and wrote it.

    And here’s where the difference comes in: blogs have biases, they are not edited, they are not vetted, they are not fact-checked, and they cannot always be trusted. Journalists are by no means perfect, but there is a system and accountability that keeps most respectable journalistic institutions committed to the importance of journalism.

    Journalism isn’t dying because of the digital world. It’s dying because people don’t care anymore, and they’re not willing to pay for the service that journalism offers the country. You should all support your local news media. You don’t know what they do for you until they’re gone.

  42. IVAN3MAN

    @ mk: “Damn! I lost an entire post. Hate [it] when that happens.”

    That’s why I always write a draft of my comment(s) on WordPad before posting! :-)

  43. justcorbly

    … old media simply doesn’t get new media. They don’t understand it. They tried to take their content and just dump it online, but that didn’t work…

    That was very much true seveal years ago, and it still is true in too many instances.

    But, traditional media — newspapers — are clever enough to hire the same designers and techies that have built the most successful online news outlets. Across the country, it’s common for newspapers to, in efect, scoop themselves online.

    What’s really holding online news distribution back is money. So far, it’s the lucky few who have been able to sustain a profitable online news business based on ad sales. The lesson that has been learned is that online news — newspapers or any other format — doesn’t bring in enough money to sustain the staff neeed to produce and deliver that news.

    The most severe impact of the demise of newspapers will be a drastic reduction in the nmber of people paid to find and produce the news. Few professional journalists — with ids in school and mortages like everyone else — are going to walk away from their failed newspaper and continue to work 8 hous a day for free producing the same news for distribution on the web.

    Professional journalists do it for money, like the rest of us. When the money goes away, most will find jobs in other areas. The few who will continue to write will be motivated by something else, usually an ideological agenda of some sort. That is, they’ll produce propaganda.

    No one should cheer the demise of newspapers. The news they produce will simply cease to be produced. We will all be that much dumber for it.

  44. Quiet_Desperation

    Just about everyone *I* know gave up on old media because it’s so shallow. Old media stopped doing journalism. Many article , if you do a modicum of fact checking from other sources, are often wildly inaccurate, or key facts are left out.

    Here in California we have a government which is openly hostile to the taxpayers. Seriously. At this point we might as well have a military junta in charge. There’d be little difference except that a junta might actually offer some entertainment value. It’s basically owned and controlled outright by three or four major public employees unions that make the Sopranos look like amateurs.

    Do any local reporters ever ask any tough questions of the legislators? The politicians make idiotic claims about things, and you never hear a follow up question. The “journalists” just sit their head nodding like a bunch of bobblehead dolls, head back to the office, lightly rework the press release they got handed, and then off the the local bar.

    Anyone one TV or radio who question the holy political writ is dismissed as a “right wing neocon” (regardless of the actual issue at hand) by smug newspaper editorial writers who live in some sort of giant, antiseptic bubble buried somewhere in the Earth’s mantle and totally cut off from the real world.

    The new media doesn’t do journalism either, but it has brighter colors, and hence gets the audience.

  45. Cheyenne

    @AJournalist -
    Great comment. The Fourth Estate is vital to this nation (and every other one).

  46. justcorbly

    Here in California we have a government which is openly hostile to the taxpayers.

    That’s a partisan opinion, and it seems it’s influenced your opinion of journalists.

  47. Pieter Kok

    Now that “the Market” is no longer the be-all and end-all, perhaps it is time to consider proper taxpayer funding for public broadcasting (like PBS and NPR), so they can expand and become the standard in high-quality journalism. I think we all agree about the importance of good journalism for a functioning democracy, and taxation is a suitable instrument that can ensure its future.

    One of the main arguments against this (besides the higher taxes) is that it would somehow make the broadcaster dependent on the very government it is supposed to watch. This does not have to be the case (for example, Supreme Court justices are paid the the government, but they are certainly not in the pocket of any Administration). In many western democracies there are healthy public broadcasters that routinely take on their respective governments.

  48. journalism as we knew it will disappear

    In the mainstream, real journalism disappeared years ago. By real journalism I mean when journalists were concerned with informing the public about truth, not pics of Britney’s cooter, not weird political spin for whatever faction the media owner wants to support, that sort of thing. Part of that was an illusion, but it was a nice illusion. Is there anyone who DOES NOT think that the journalists in mainstream media are full of it?

    As long as journalism continues to be personal opinion, punditry and invective, it’s doomed to die. Blogs are perfect for that, the evening news broadcast is not.

    … as I read down further in this thread…

    Yeah, what QD said.

  49. Charles Boyer

    @A Journalist: your craft began its long descent towards death when mass media merged with big business.

    It is fairly accepted that so-called “news” and analysis first must pass through the filter of a large corporation that owns the media platform (be it a periodical or electronic) and then it must be profitable.

    Secondly, so-called bloggers are quite capable of doing research and original reporting, and that’s what the best of them do. Generally speaking those blogs are the winners in the marketplace of ideas.

    Finally, journalism is fully compatible with new media just as much as old. In fact, new media is simply a distribution model, and nothing else. Just as radio and television, the Internet only represents a more efficient transmission method.

    The truth is that the old masters failed to recognize the sea change of computer interconnectivity and ubiquity and clung to their old model and are now suffering in a business sense as a result.

  50. Caleb

    I don’t have a problem with newspapers going away as long as it is replaced with the same quality of journalism and content (ie: online versions) which are equally as easy to access. There’s no problem in transforming the medium, but it’s sad to see the quality suffer as a result.

    It seems like much of the newspaper industry missed the 21st century boat and failed to transform their business model online. How different things could have been if major newspaper companies had found a way to weave a tighter subscriber community by pioneering much of what many social sites do today.

    But I agree with what others have said here. What is saddening/frightening is I’m seeing more and more people’s ability to think critically being washed away as they look merely to blogs, social sites, or certain political comedy/commentary shows as their only source of news.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have my dozen or so blogs I visit every day (this being one of them), and I think we always need to have political comedians/commentators. But when people stop seeing the bias that comes out of these mediums it is frightening.

    Case in point, my wife gets lots of emails from friends/family about “articles” they’ve read or online petitions. 9 times out of 10 they are blatantly false and often down-right offensive. She finally got tired of it and sent everyone who sends her those stories a link to http://www.wikihow.com/Recognize-Bias-in-a-Newspaper-Article asking them to review this BEFORE sending her these “articles”.

    Last thought, I see the degradation of primary education as a big contributor to this problem. People stop caring about or even recognizing bias because they often lack the critical thinking skills necessary to do so.

  51. Anders

    Yes, it is inevitable. But the spread of creationism, conspiracy theories, holocaust denial and other nonsense is at least partially a consequense of the weakening of the traditional media, (books, magazines or newspapers). It is now possible for every weird fringe to spread its message and to get an audience on the web. For example, I know well-educated people who thinks the Zeitgeist movie with its gibberish conspiracy theories is spot on. It would have been impossible to spread such a message so widely only 15 years ago. The mainstream media , then as now, rarely mentions such theories or give them any credibility, but now the web is here to tell you all about the “fact” that evolution is just a theory, that 9-11 was an inside job, that the moon landing is a hoax, that global warming is a scam to raise taxes………

    Society is likely to split up even more than it already is and present-day fringes might turn into powerful communities with strong political power – well, judging by Texas it’s already happening.

  52. justcorbly

    @Squid: Is there anyone who DOES NOT think that the journalists in mainstream media are full of it?

    Me, for one. I don’t read, watch or listen to news that is “full of it.”

    My local newspaper isn’t crap. Neither are the local public broadcasting radio stations. News on local broadcast TV is actually responsible. My primary online news sources are the NYT, BBC and The Guardian. They aren’t crap, either.

    Here’s what’s crap: Cable TV and talk radio. But, then, they don’t qualify as being part of the news business.

    I don’t watch cable news. Geez, I don’ t even subscribe. I’m missing nothing except noise.

    Remember, tabloid journalism has been around for years and years, and not everything labeled “news” is news.

  53. bjn

    Competent writing and journalism doesn’t change. There are bajillions of bloggers with delusions of journalistic credibility and few that really do journalism. To paraphrase Truman Capote, the vast bulk of the web isn’t writing, it’s typing. Topical blogging is parochial, incestuous, and if you look at feed subscriptions there’s no blog that has the “circulation” of even a small newspaper. Google Reader shows the BAB as having 3603 subscribers.

    My local newspapers are thin, pallid, and don’t look long for this world. That is a BAD thing when there isn’t another medium that can support professionals so they can do the interviews, the research and investigation we need more than ever.

    The Huffington Post is sometimes fun, but it’s a leech that produces only opinion, not news. When the real news agencies go away, the web will have to feed on tweets and half-baked blog content. Pretty thin gruel for an informed electorate.

    NPR, Frontline and the BBC are my news oasis in this desertified news wastland.

  54. From MAX HEADROOM:

    Edison Carter (Matt Frewer): When did News become Entertainment?

    Murray, his ‘editor’ (Jeffrey Tambor): When it was created?

    STILL 20 minutes into the Future….

    J/P=?

  55. MadScientist

    Ho-hum. There seems to be some sort of religious following of ‘Nature’. I’ve often complained about the non-reviewed articles that are often presented – like that one about 10 years or so ago where someone in India claimed to have a magic fuel plant. He’d put a few dried leaves into a test tube with water, boil the water, and he magically had so many milliliters of diesel oil. Now I would expect even a Chem101 flunkee to immediately see that the mass of the fuel exceeds the mass of the leaves by about 1000% – I marvel at a diesel oil that is about 90% H2O and about 10% complex sugar. So: beware what you read in Nature especially if it’s not a reviewed article. I laugh at the thought of Nature complaining about science journalism.

  56. Grego

    Caleb’s got a great point there. While the immediacy (i.e. if not instant gratification) of online news is alluring, it can also be its Achilles Heel.

    Online “news” is sadly becoming a wasteland of half-baked truths & rumors, mostly by virtue of the reality of news outlets (bloggers included) all racing each other to get there first. Little gets vetted or fact-checked. You can always discreetly retract it later. Thus quality of information suffers. Note how often the anti-vaxxers take advantage of this. Speed may be awesome (35 Tweets an hour, anyone?), but once poorly conceived bilge is out there, well, it’s out there.

    (Full disclosure – I do make my living connected to print media, although at the digital end of it. Doesn’t make me delusional , tho.)

    Some may sneer at the “tree based” media, but one fact remains: by the very nature of its process, print has a far greater impetus to get things right. When you’re printing a run of 2.3 million magazines, errors are a lot more difficult (not to say, expensive) to correct. You can’t just edit in a strikethrough & be done with it. The consequences of haste & rash decisions are far more severe in print. This *could* just result in a lot more thought going into the finished product.

    Doesn’t always, mind you – but I’d be willing to bet it helps.

    In short, take a lesson from Wyile E. Coyote: While that new Acme™ Rocket Pack might seem like the greatest thing ever, just watch out for the edge of the cliff…

  57. justcorbly

    Re: Twitter and news –

    Let’s imagine what would happen if every real reporter started producing stories no more than 140 characters long.

  58. A Journalist

    @ Charles Boyer:

    Show me a blog which consistently posts honest, balanced, unbiased, and thoroughly researched posts that investigate serious topics.

    And then show me any typical American who can tell the difference between editorializing and good journalism.

    Also, it is a mistake to call journalism my profession–I am still a student journalist. And I live in a world where people get their “news” from places like Steven Colbert… NOT JOURNALISM. It is unfortunate that people with opinions are considered journalists these days. The solution is not to throw your hands up in the air and give up on the profession altogether; the solution is to stop the spread of ignorance and to help the public renew their faith in it.

  59. Quiet_Desperation

    justcorbly Says:That’s a partisan opinion,

    Absolute 100% pure ignorant BULL. The last budget, full of regressive taxes for which there were MANY alternatives, was opposed by *every* group polled, no matter how you sliced the data. By race, by Party, by gender, by favorite color… it didn’t matter- universally opposed. The California legislature is no longer a representative government, and is on the verge of becoming criminal in the eyes of many folks of many ideological persuasions. For frak’s sake you played the exact “marginalize the opposition” card I described like a programmed little robot. You are what the political class refers to as a useful idiot. Get out of your unreality bubble and smell the truth.

    A Journalist Says: Journalism is an art, and it is a vital one to the success of our country. Journalists are the people who call out the government.

    And when will that be happening, exactly? Your profession is swiftly falling below that of lawyers in terms of public opinion. I’d trust a strung out junkie before I trusted most of the vermin who call pose as journalists these days. You guys botched Bush. You are botching Obama. The California state government is regularly fellated by local news media despite their Biblical proportion failures. Your words are empty and speak of a fantasy world that does not exist.

    The Los Angeles Times, for example, isn’t dying because of the Internet. It’s dying because they print absolute nonsense on a daily basis.

    There’s a scene in a Tom Clancy book (I forget which one. He went way downhill after Debt Of Honor) that I thought made the point nicely. An old time journalist is teamed up with a new hotshot reporter. They are chasing some guy around trying to get a story. The guy finally turns to the reporters and says, “Why should I trust you? You’re journalists!” And this hits the old time guy really hard. He realizes just how far his profession has fallen.

    And I live in a world where people get their “news” from places like Steven Colbert… NOT JOURNALISM.

    Totally agreed here. I remember checking out Colbert to see what the buzz was, and after three episodes I was like, “Is this all he does? A bad O’Reilly parody? I don’t like O’Reilly, so why do I want to watch the same bad parody over and over?” I can’t stand John Stewert, either. Nothing to do with the politics. It’s his constant mugging and overacting to the camera. It’s tiresome after just a few minutes.

  60. Quiet_Desperation

    Case in point, my wife gets lots of emails from friends/family about “articles” they’ve read or online petitions. 9 times out of 10 they are blatantly false

    Those make the rounds at my work every so often, and this is a place where more than half of the people have graduate degrees in technical and scientific fields. I’m constantly responding with links to the relevant pages on snopes.com. It tends to be the urban myths that might somehow affect people personally, like the one about the gang initiation where they supposedly drive in a car at night without their headlights, and the initiate is supposed to shoot the driver of the first car that blinks their lights as a reminder.

  61. justcorbly

    The California legislature is no longer a representative government, and is on the verge of becoming criminal in the eyes of many folks of many ideological persuasions.

    By defintion, that’s a partisan opinion. You seem to be arguing that media in California is bad because they aren’t rnning news pieces attacking the “criminal” legislature. But then, a news story loses legitimacy if it attacks its subjects.

    … just how far his profession has fallen…

    Every pressure, every temptation and every bias that allegedly has afficted traditional media is equally at play in all of the new platforms trumpeted as replacing it.

    …Colbert… O’Reilly… Stewart…

    All comedians, although one is an unintentional fool. News exists on these shows only to set up the comic bits. (O’Reilly does the same thing as the others, except that he spins a rant rather than a joke.) People who claim to get their news from these shows are fundamentally ill-informed.

  62. Quiet Desperation

    By defintion, that’s a partisan opinion.

    The legislature passes a budget that runs counter to what any group of citizens you care to define opposes. That is a representative government FAIL by definition. It is not partisan.

    You seem to be arguing that media in California is bad because they aren’t rnning news pieces attacking the “criminal” legislature. But then, a news story loses legitimacy if it attacks its subjects.

    See, I’ve always felt that was rather naive and sadly idealized POV on the media. I want rabid news hounds out nipping at the heels of elected officials to keep them honest. Failing that, expose them to the point the resign in shame, or fake shame- either way is fine with me as long as they get the heck outta Sacramento or D.C.

    Where are the Woodwards & Bernsteins of the current generation? Where is the real investigative reporting that does not involve Paris Hilton or Octomom?

    Did you ever read the Transmetropolitan graphic novels by Warren Ellis?

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transmetropolitan

    The main character, Spider Jerusalem, fits my mold of the ideal journalist. Here’s a quote from the character:

    “I want to see humans talking about human life personally. I want to see people who give a (bleep) about the world. I want… I want to see posessed journalists! YES! I want to see people like me rising up with hate, laying about them with fiery eyes and steaming genetalia–possessed by ancient volcano gods from the Polynesian islands, waving vast breasts and improbable p*nises at the secret chiefs of the world–naked glowing god-journalists browntrousering the naughty twenty-four hours a day, a new planet earth!”

    Now *THAT* would be journalism I could respect. :-) Heck, I’d go back to college and become a journalist. Might still do it if I can retire from my current career early enough.

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