Last week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech rebuking the news media. I wonder how many believers who dabble in “news coverage” on their self-publishe web-sites have considered some of the dangers he mentioned:
The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by “impact”. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.
Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressures as broadsheets.
The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked. The consequences of this are acute. First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down.
News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light. Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.
Watergate was a great piece of journalism but there is a PhD thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct.
But misconduct is what has impact. Third, the fear of missing out means today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out. Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself.