Why is Mainstream Media Doing Such a Bad Job?

One of Wikileaks coordinators, Julian Assange, blames them for what he calls “wasting first-rate source material", and charges that reporters, editors and publishers refuse to invest in analysis without additional incentives.

Why is Mainstream Media Doing Such a Bad Job?
Photo: wallyg, Creative Commons, Flickr
As a result, Wikileaks is planning to auction Hugo Chavez-related e-mails, abandoning its former policy of providing “inside” information for free.

The act is a combination of laziness induced by increasingly poor pay – since neither publishers nor Americans in general value literacy as much as they do celebrity or notoriety – and the increasing control of media sources by fewer and fewer hands. Only the Internet seems to have escaped this form of censorship, but expect that to change with the advent of Web 2.0, which is being billed as the next wave of Web utilities but is in fact aimed at reducing the dissemination of information.

As a result, corporate-controlled news sources report what they are told to report. A prime example is this week’s report on U.S. health insurance statistics. Most sources, from the New York Times to the Washington Post (and including all the business journals – www.bizjournals.com), reported a rise in insured individuals from 2006 to 2007, based on reports from the U.S. Census Bureau.

While this is statistically true, it obscures the fact that the rise in insureds is due solely to more people being covered under government-sponsored health insurance policies (see the sidebar on page 27 of the Census Bureau report linked above). It also obscures the fact that health insurance – a topic of serious concern to many voters and a subject poorly addressed by both presidential candidates – is still largely unaffordable for many Americans. The rate of privately insured individuals (meaning those who buy their own insurance or opt for corporate-sponsored policies) remained statistically the same.

If the news made you think of voting for John McCain, who advocates income-tax incentives ($2,500 for individuals, $5,000 for families), think again. McCain’s plan won’t help poor families struggling to make ends meet who pay less than $5,000 in taxes and the plan doesn’t offer rebates.

But I’m getting off-topic. Mainstream media is failing to address the important issues of the day due to a combination of inexperienced writers/reporters (who will work for next to nothing) and corporate control of content, which has relevant individuals like editors and publishers abandoning their posts for private industry.

Because my list is so long, I’m going to present headlines that are internally linked to articles. Those who wish can investigate further:

Two Leaders to Step Down at Tribune Newspapers

Chicago Tribune’ editor, ‘L.A. Times’ publisher resign

Scottsboro ‘Daily Sentinel’ Publisher Resigns

Harvard Business Review Publisher Resigns

Orlando Sentinel’ Publisher Resigns

Register publisher to retire, ‘follow dreams’

Exiled Star Tribune publisher resigns; lawsuit settled

New Mexico Business Weekly Publisher Resigns

I easily have another ten entries, but you get the picture. Don’t let the words “retire” or “left to devote more time to family” fool you. These highly-placed, influential people are abandoning a sinking ship like the proverbial rats of the English Navy.

As they leave, readership falls. This is partly cause-and-effect – what literate person willingly reads trivia? It is also due to the fact that fewer and fewer people read, because TV is so easy and the newsbites come predigested. No need for the mental equivalent of the colon when Fox News is primed to tell you what to think.

As readership goes down, the cost per copy either goes down to draw in more readers, or up to pay rising overhead costs like rent and utilities. Neither solution addresses the problem, which is shareholder participation demanding a steadily increasing return on investment – a return paid largely by advertising.

The Internet hasn’t quite solved the problem either, since it relies on the mainstream media for much of its content. Subscribe to a newsfeed through RSS (really simple syndication) and the headlines will be a mixed bag of real news badly reported and selected celebrity clips. I like Angelina Jolie, but I’m tired of hearing about her babies. She is not the first woman on the planet to give birth to twins, and the rise of AIDS in New York is a greater concern.

The solution is literacy and engagement on the part of U.S. citizens, and a lighter hand when it comes to corporate control of newspaper publishing. Both require sacrifices, of time and money. Is America up to the challenge? You tell me.

Disclosure: I don’t own stock in any publishing company or newspaper.

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