The Future of Journalism

September 28th, 2010 at 6:46 am David Frum | 43 Comments |

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Here are notes for a speech I delivered Monday on the future of journalism to a combined meeting of the Canadian Journalism Foundation and the Canadian Club, at the Royal York hotel in Toronto.


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To address a room of journalists about the state of journalism seems like speaking in Youngstown, Ohio about the future of steelworking. These have been tough times for the media business. Layoffs at ABC News, Newsweek sold for $1, the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times traded as distressed properties … but why continue?  You know the worst as well as I.

Today I’d like to step back from the carnage and see if we can discern the deeper trends – and ways to respond to those trends creatively and positively.

I think I see five of special importance.

Trend 1: De-monopolization.

I see my father-in-law Peter Worthington here today. Peter of course launched the Toronto Sun in 1971. When he did so, that was the first daily newspaper launch in a major North American market since Marshall Field, heir to an enormous department store fortune, created the Chicago Sun-Times 30 years before.

The barriers to entry in the newspaper business rose very high in the 1970s. Printing presses cost big money. Distribution networks were difficult to build. And the most lucrative advertising went to the dominant paper in each market.

Broadcast barriers were even more daunting: big networks formed an ultra-profitable oligopoly whose returns on investment would impress the oil companies.

All of this is gone, gone, gone. Barriers to entry have collapsed, Craig Newmark killed classified advertising, proliferating cable channels have cannibalized network revenues.

Now the surest way to sound like an old-fogey in the media business is to tell the youngsters that there used to exist this thing called an expense account.

Trend 2: De-professionalization.

Monopoly revenues paid salaries that elevated journalism from a trade to a profession. Universities offered degrees in journalism, journalists discussed and debated codes of professional ethics, media companies instituted public editors to respond to perceived bias or unfairness.

But as barriers to entry have collapsed, the line between “media professional” and ordinary person has collapsed too.

Who is the media exactly these days? Anybody who wants to be.

Who must worry about journalistic ethics? Nobody who does not want to.

Case in point: Perhaps you remember Jon Stewart’s famous appearance on Crossfire, where he memorably scolded the hosts for lowering the tone of public debate. One of the hosts challenged Stewart: well, what about your tone? He answered: “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

This is a brilliant excuse, and Stewart is not the only one to use it. It’s the excuse used by radio talk show hosts – by the new American polemical cable stations – by bloggers.

We’re not “journalists,” we’re not governed by those rules, they’re for the CBS Evening News and the New York Times. All the rest of us are allowed to be as biased as we like, to edit unfairly, to quote out of context, to wage vendettas, to mock and ridicule.

A generation ago, quality control in the media was self-imposed: media corporations built in layers of editors and checkers, in the manner of the vertically integrated corporations that dominated the midcentury era.

Today, the quality control comes from outside, in effect outsourced. Websites try to catch each other in mistakes, Jon Stewart satirizes Fox, the conservative Daily Caller buys the site and posts hostile items about the MSNBC star.

Which leads to:

Trend 3: Rising demands on the media consumer.

A generation ago, media organizations thought very hard about what their audiences needed to know – and what they did not need to know.

The headlines on the front page; the order of items in the nightly news; all reflected the news judgment of some hierarchical organization.

Those same organizations also decided what their audiences did not need to know: which politician was having an extramarital affair, the race of the mugger in the crime blotter.

Today there is more information available than ever – but the job of making sense of that information is also thrust more upon the news user. Walter Cronkite used to sign off his broadcast, “And that’s the way it is.” Who would dare say such a thing today? Who would believe him? It is the way each of us wishes to believe it is.

We used, each of us, to be entitled to our own opinions. Now we are each entitled to our facts – or pseudo-facts.

Trend 4: Information inequality.

There was an important election in Venezuela yesterday. If you’d like to know more, you can visit websites and blogspots – in English – that can immerse you in all the details and consequences of the story.

Or not.

A generation ago, it was harder to be completely ignorant of public events. You had to rise off the sofa to turn off the television when the news started, then turn it back on when the news ended. More of us were associated with formally organized institutions – churches, trade unions, service clubs, veterans’ organizations – that pushed information out to memberships.

Today, while the best informed 5% of the population know more about the world than any previous information elite, the least-informed 1/3 of the population almost certainly know less.

We can easily measure the gathering economic inequality that looms so large in all the advanced economies, especially but not only the United States. Informational inequality is harder to measure, but perhaps more profoundly consequential.

Trend 5: The increasing importance of strategic communication and miscommunication.

Probably everybody here remembers the incident of the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish boat that attempted to force the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The boat organizers hoped to focus international condemnation on Israel. Their plan backfired when Israel released video footage of the knife-armed boat crew savagely attacking Israel commandos.

This incident is a microcosm of modern warfare. Yes there was actual violence in which actual people got hurt. But while in traditional warfare, the purpose of violence is to impose one power’s will by force upon the enemy, the violence in modern war is deployed to shape global public opinion. War is PR by other means.

And not just war.

It’s true in politics and business and culture – messaging increasingly dominates all other aspects of activity. Look at this season’s elections in the United States. Traditional organization and get out the vote work takes a back seat to the framing of narratives: a Republican narrative of Democrats as anticonstitutional extremists, a Democratic narrative of Republicans as ignorant primitives.

The media collectively are more powerful than ever, but individual media enterprises are much weaker than they used to be. This gives sophisticated messagers both greater incentive – and greater ability – to shape the mental universe in which we all live.

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43 Comments so far ↓

  • armstp

    However, three problems I see is that in many cases journalistic standards have completely broken down, less deep dives into real investigative stuff and a focus on non-important stories.

    There may be more journalism out there, but it does not mean it is any better. The loss of strong and important newspapers that had been the real backbone and resources to find the story has hurt us all. True, there are more citizen journalists, but much of this is fluff and opinion. Blogs like FrumForum are largely dependent on the news sources of newspapers. What happens when all the newspapers are gone or have shrunk? Who will write the stories that Frum Forum quotes?

  • blowtorch_bob

    The death of the current media caste system should not be lamented. Case in point. The WMD scam the Bush gang pulled off a few years ago as a pretext to invade Iraq. The media went along with it, no questions asked. And when it was finally clear that the whole thing was made up, a scam, what do you think happened? They just blamed the whole thing on a few low level analysts in the CIA.

    No talking heads in the mass media were chopped. It was business as usual. You see, they were just victims of “faulty intelligence.” Just like the rest of us.

  • sinz54

    David Frum: Craig Newmark killed classified advertising, proliferating cable channels have cannibalized network revenues.
    That, right there, is the main reason why newspapers are dying.

    The answer is to move completely away from hardcopy newspapers, towards a 100% Internet model whose costs are lower.

    That’s what has done. They now have more reporters covering the Obama Administration than the Washington Post does.

    In just 20 more years, businessmen will no longer read a hardcopy newspaper over breakfast. News will no longer be printed on paper. Instead, they will read on their IPads or IPhones or whatever the equivalent will be by then.

    David Frum: Today, the quality control comes from outside, in effect outsourced. Websites try to catch each other in mistakes, Jon Stewart satirizes Fox, the conservative Daily Caller buys the site and posts hostile items about the MSNBC star.
    That’s a good model, as Wikipedia has demonstrated.

    When Dan Rather and Mary Mapes tried to post unsupported “evidence” of Bush’s National Guard service on “60 Minutes,” the blogosphere exposed the evidence as flimsy. Mapes and Rather were fired.

    When Reuters’ photographers deliberately Photoshopped photographs of the Israel-Lebanon War in order to present a false impression, bloggers exposed it. The photographer was fired.

    It makes you wonder what lies the Mainstream Media got away with before the Internet existed.

    Lies like this one:

    CNN’s Eason Jordan admitted that his network deliberately went easy on Saddam Hussein, minimizing the gravity of the atrocities he committed, in order to provide better access for CNN’s reporters.

    Just like Walter Duranty of the New York Times deliberately omitted any news of Stalin’s crimes. Duranty won a Pulitzer for his reporting, which he didn’t deserve for his political corruption.

  • midcon

    The future of journalism is not just bleak, it is simply extinct. Journalism actually died out a number of years ago. I would be hard pressed to identify the specific year, but let’s face it, actual journalism has not existed in the media for quite some time. I am amused when someone identifies themselves as a journalist and then they open their mouths or put pen to paper and remove all doubt.

  • CD-Host

    Wow it is interesting how much people even disagree with the basics here. I’m old enough to remember when most cities had morning and evening newspapers and their was no cable news. I think the low point this article talks about was hit in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The press discipline in 2001 would have impressed Stalin.

    Today … we have diversity again. We have a wide range of media sources. We have journalists who consolidate these sources using all sorts of standards. We have standards of believability based on maintaining long term credibility. In short we have real capitalism in journalism. And it is awesome.

    I can’t think of a time where you could have had: Glenn Beck (the John Birch society show), Rachel Maddow (the Nation magazine show), Chris Matthews (labor democrat), Shawn Hannity (Right Republican)…. It is wonderful. And the diversity that used to exist in magazines pales in comparison to the internet. And the internet is the news source used by 40% + of the population.

    There is so much that is wrong with America. What’s happening to our media, combining the diversity of 20s media, the quantity of reporters from 50s media and the fact checking of 90s media is fantastic.

  • Non-Contributor

    Nice Post Mr. Frum.

    Although two points I would like to make.

    1) I would have to dig around but I thought I remember reading a well written article about the consolidation of the newspaper industry and the huge amounts of debt that were forced on these businesses that led to their eventual decline and decay. For the most part this article stated that the businesses made money but could not overcome the debt positions.

    2) What Mr. Frum are you doing (if anything) to uphold a journalist standard on The FrumForum?


  • Bebe99

    midcon I’m not sure journalism ever lived up to what we thought it was. However I think you are right that it is dead-for now. Who really has time to sift through all the chaff to find the few nuggets of unbiased information out there. It is very time-consuming. My strategy is to listen to the biased info from both sides and then try to figure out what is truth. In the age of information, we are sorely lacking in truly helpful and knowledgeable information. When people tire of the constant flow of junk into our ears we will again resurrect something like journalism. For now we have media.

  • CD-Host

    Bebe –

    Can you give me an area where you believe you have worse access to information than say 20 years ago? In other words something specific, like disease outbreak information or information about lobbyists.

  • Frogmorton

    The ultra partisan nature that currently infects democracy can in some measure be attributed to the decline in journalism. When we were governed by parties which held close to the center the schism wasn’t as noticeable but with the extremes on either side moving further apart the flaws in the system have become apparent. If the editorial board of newspaper A is decidedly liberal then it’s a given that the news will be presented with a left wing bias. Similarly if newspaper B is conservative the same rule applies. It would be nice to think we could return to the “just the facts” model of journalism but I think now that the veil has been lifted there is no going back. The level of distrust people have for the News Media almost equals that which they have for politicians. When busy people with busy lives have to cut through the spin to find the truth they are likely to just tune out instead.

  • armstp


    The question is does Politico make money? I bet that it does not, particularly their electronic format (see article and quote below). Advertising models are having trouble making any money and nobody wants to pay for Internet subscriptions.

    Great that everything is going to the Internet, but very few business models make money on the Internet. I doubt that Frum Fourm makes any money and certainly not enough to support any real journalism, say foreign correpondents or real investigative journalism that may take months and a fair amount of expense to dig up the stories.

    Without other sources of information like AP and newspaper stories most online media sites would have nothing other than flimsy opinion. They rely on the cost and hard work of others.

    “News website Politico was launched two years ago in combination with a free print edition of approximately 32,000 copies which run three days a week when Congress is in session.

    Nearly 80 editors work for Joseph Allbritton’s Politico The small, but mostly high-profile editorial staff now includes 77 employees. The site is estimated to reach about 7 million unique users a month, but publisher Allbritton Communications says the majority of the revenues come from the print edition. ”

    Did you get that, most of the money Politico makes is from the printed version. They also remain very small and are only very focused on inside the Washington beltway, so hardly an important national or international or even truely local news source. Easy to have these very small and focused journalistic sites, but that is not enough. They do not get the big stories. Say, would Politico do a big and meaty story on the U.S.’s failing infrastructure or the influence of the Chinese on the art world? To get those stories you need much more resources. For the most part Politico’s stories are press releases, opinion pieces, rely on polls or the hard work of other journalistic venues and are often very flimsy journalism. Everyone in Washington reads Politico because of the gossip factor. For the really hard stories, although less so these days, they read the WaPo.

  • midcon

    I agree that our access to information today is without parrallel in recorded history. We are constantly bombarded with information from a plethora of sources. I think Bebe (speaking for him if I may)and I, were referring to actual journalism that would be defined as writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without interpretation or analysis. It is not that interpretation and analysis is unwanted, it is just that when interpretation and anlaysis is blended with direct presentation, what we get is bias. What we have today is a diversity of sources but that diversity consists primarily of interpretation, analysis, and opinion. The facts fell by the wayside. What we have today can not be considered journalism in any way shape or form.

  • Bebe99

    CD-Host. There is a plethora of information. Seriously lacking is good information about the economy, business, politics. The problem is that most of it is based on very partisan views. The media lazily will report what each side says about some issue. But other than that it is rare that a reporter makes the effort to ferret out data or facts which are what people really need to know to make their own decision.

  • PatrickQuint

    sinz54, I expect print media to live about as long as books do. Since books are by no means dead, I think print media will last a while longer too.

    Also, the link you provide regarding CNN’s Eason Jordan specifically notes that most of the decisions not to air certain violence in Iraq were made for the sake of Iraqi citizens working for the CNN team. He claims that it was about saving lives, not better access, and I see no reason not to take him at his word on that. I see no reprehensible moral lapse there, only a moral decision.

    Bebe99, unfortunately the articles you linked to in the other discussion have proven more difficult to access than I had hoped. I’ll keep the vitals on file for when it’s convenient. Thanks.

    Having gotten interested in news media in the post-9/11 age, I simply assume that what I see has some measure of bias associated with and try to get valuable information out of it despite the news.

  • armstp


    “I can’t think of a time where you could have had: Glenn Beck (the John Birch society show), Rachel Maddow (the Nation magazine show), Chris Matthews (labor democrat), Shawn Hannity (Right Republican)…. It is wonderful. And the diversity that used to exist in magazines pales in comparison to the internet. And the internet is the news source used by 40% + of the population.”

    I think you are confusing a few things here. I think you have a very broad definition of journalism. Those shows you quote above are largely opinion shows, which I guess you can call journalism. However, I would not call them journalism. Also, if you look at where most of the journalism comes from on the Internet, it usually comes from quoting traditional news or journalism formats, like newspapers, magazines and wire services like AP. The bulk of significant, deep and intelligent journalism is still generated by these traditional means and then diseminated by aggregator sites like Frum Forum or the Huffington Post. These sites do very little real journalism themselves, other than opinion pieces.

  • Frogmorton

    Not long ago a journalism student posted an obituary online for a fictional composer. He listed off the composer’s long list of accomplishments which included several movie credits. The story was picked up and ran on several major news agencies. No one thought to fact check and an entire industry ended up with egg on its face. The internet may one day be the best way to keep informed but for now I think we would be served better by the Town crier roaming the countryside on a unicycle shouting the truth through a megaphone.

  • CD-Host

    OK so I see where people are disagreeing. They are saying there is less access to information. I think the access to information has gone way way up. For example that discussion yesterday about the 40% of births to unmarried mothers. I was able in under two minutes to find the original source at the CDC and in about 3 more to find a followup study in Princeton which directly addressed the issue we were discussing. In 1970 that would have been a full day at a top notch library. And journalists never covered stuff in any depth.

    Now armstp raises two points:

    1) There is still some base journalism which is required. He’s right. The Wall Street Journal until recently was doing fine because it had exclusive content. Reuters, AP… seem like they are doing well.

    There are web2.0 alternatives like but obviously they mix fact with opinion.

    2) would Politico do a big and meaty story on the U.S.’s failing infrastructure or the influence of the Chinese on the art world?

    I can get a whole website on infrastructure
    I’m not sure what you mean by Chinese and the art world… but heck I can get hundreds of articles the moment I google on Chinese art investment and the effects.

    I’m just not seeing any falloff in journalism.

    finally in terms of bias. When I grew up (this was the 1970s) it was not uncommon to have a labor newspaper, a business newspaper, minority newspapers, etc… News sources were quite biased. There was a very short window in the 1980s-2004 where news was homogeneous and the Iraq war proved how poorly that worked.

  • armstp


    There is a difference between information and journalism. Journalism asks questions and information does not. Sure information is widely available on the Internet, but that is not the same as journalism.

    Sure I can get all the information I want on the art world and the Chinese on the Internet, but does it answer the question for me, what influence are the Chinese having on the art world? or does just the information that is available on the Internet tell us something new like Chinese are bidding up prices or that Chinese art is become more important, information in itself does not link all of this together like journalism does.

    Although your link to the infrastructure website is interesting and information, it is also run by the lobbying group for civil engineers. That is really not very independent and not really journalism. Someone who takes the information from the website and other sources and writes a story about it, that would be journalism.

    I think a lot of people confuse access to information and journalism. They are not the same.

  • CD-Host

    armstp (replying to Sep 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm) –

    Yes that’s correct I was being inclusive. If you mean fact only. I think the blogosphere is creating a network of reporters focused on specifics. For example lets take bible translation.

    In general this is far too specialized a field a niche for religion reporters to cover well. The readership doesn’t know who the various scholars are and their positions, they aren’t familiar with debates over particular lines….. But the effects on the development of American Christianity are simply enormous. There are about 75 blogs, including mine, that cover this topic in some detail for the non professionals which have participation from professionals.

    This information is frequently summarized and on blogs that have become “the standard” the document of record and are well regarding as accurately capturing the analysis by people on all sides of the debates. Those summaries are frequently linked off to by general religion blogs of which there are thousands.

    So my question is. What’s wrong with this system?

  • CD-Host

    armstp –

    I’m a little hard pressed to understand the distinction you are making between opinion and journalism. Also why reject the “story” with details from the infrastructure report card. They are taking raw information about various pieces of infrastructure combining them and presenting the information.

    In other words give me a definition that actual fits. You seem to have an intuitive notion of journalism that defies definition. And I think your notion comes down to: personal supported by their writing working for a medium which is advertising supported writing for a broad audience.

    No doubt that is getting less common. What we have today are knowledgeable writers who are non professional supporting opinion oriented consolidators and those consolidators are the ones focused on a broad audience. But even their audiences are far more narrow than what was aimed for a generation ago.

    And if that is the case, I’d comment the same thing is still happening in book publishing. The vast majority of books ever published have been published using On-Demand rather than offset technology and aim for 200 or fewer copies sold. Essentially the commercial presses are going to need to lose about 2/3rds of their capacity as we move towards these more narrow markets and this is driving a change in the economics where authors pay for book services like editing and layout So my guess is we have a long way to go in “journalism”.

  • armstp


    Do your religious blogs actually make money? Or are people doing this for fun?

    If they do not make money then this highlights who’s going to pay whom to sit through those boring town council meetings, or risk their lives in wars and revolutions, or report politics and democracy fairly?

    Nobody is making money on the Internet and now with all the “aggregators” and thousands of supposive news sites it even gets more difficult to make money on the Internet to support real journalism.

    Hopefully, the iPad and other tablets will save the jouralism business, but that assumes that people will want to pay for subscriptions.

    Quoting a story:

    “It was still an uphill struggle to write what I cared about, but at least I was getting generously paid – up to $10 a word by Time magazine. Imagine that – $10 a word. Most Americans would be happy to make $10 an hour.

    Then, bit by bit, it all began to fall apart. The news weeklies: Time let me go in 1997. The book publishing industry was in tatters by 2005. And then the newspapers began to shrink within my hands or actually disappear. I was beginning to feel a certain kinship with blacksmiths and elevator operators when the recession hit in 2008, and every single income stream I had began to dry up.

    So a couple of weeks ago, I pitched a certain well-known newspaper a series of reported essays on precisely this topic. They took it – but at about only one-quarter of what they had paid me for writing columns five years ago, barely enough to cover expenses. That bothered me. But then I had a kind of epiphany and realized: I’ve got to do this anyway. I’m on a mission, and I’ll do whatever it takes. ”

    There is not much economics in being a journalist right now. Journalism can survive, but they still have to find new ways to pay for it.

    Sure Perez Hilton can become a millionare, but that is not journalism. In fact, without Perez Hilton stealing all those pictures from the paparazzi, who incur the cost of getting those pictures, he would have no business.

  • PatrickQuint

    The problem with these systems is that people look to confirm their own beliefs rather than challenge their own beliefs.

    The worry is that news consumers can and do insulate themselves by getting news not from a wide variety of sources, but rather from a narrow set of sources that they agree with.

    Another problem is how specific and narrows web news is. With specialized web-based outlets it is far more difficult to come across interesting or important information that you didn’t set out to look for. If you’re only following federal politics, you may find yourself lacking local news, or science news, or news on international developments.

  • armstp


    As I say above: “Those shows you quote above are largely opinion shows, which I guess you can call journalism.” You are right, journalism can include opinion. However, opinion is not really “news”.

    ” Opinion journalism is journalism that makes no claim of objectivity. Although distinguished from advocacy journalism in several ways, both forms feature a subjective viewpoint, usually with some social or political purpose. Common examples include newspaper columns, editorials, editorial cartoons, and punditry.

    Unlike advocacy journalism, opinion journalism has a reduced focus on detailed facts or research, and its perspective is often of a more personalized variety. Its product may be only one component of a generally objective news outlet, rather than the dominant feature of an entire publication or broadcast network. ”

    “The key for me is good reporting in both analysis and opinion writing. The difference is one of intention: opinion should be about changing hearts and minds with knowledge and wisdom; analysis should be about knowledge and wisdom (i.e. organized information embedded in a context and the capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to the solution of significant problems). Analysis, therefore, should not promote specific agendas; it should examine agendas.”

  • CD-Host

    armstp –

    All the blogs to the best of my knowledge don’t make money on content. Some may make a pittance on advertising or referrals at best in the high 3 figures. Some help professional reputations and land consulting work and that can be real money.

    I like your example of a town counsel. Here is an example where I think new journalism does things much better.

    Old system — A mediocre journalist covered the meetings. He wrote a simple summary of what occurred, mentioned anything unusual. Very little analysis or insight.

    New system — A town government itself maintains a website with essentially the same information as what would be in the old system. Sometime members of the town counsel maintains a blog. Often the town crank maintains a blog highly critical of the town counsel and providing detailed though biased journalism. So as a reader I have access to:
    1) An official statement “just the facts”
    2) Slightly more analysis and interpretation. An institutional perspective. Essentially not much different than the analysis in the old system.
    3) A very detailed analysis and interpretation. A hostile perspective (opinion journalism)

    How is the old system better? This is what I don’t see at all. Now I certainly will agree that if I could get the Washinton Post’s staff to cover Mercer County government that would be better than what I have now but that never existed.

    People can make money for new content. Bob Woodward is probably making more money today than he ever has for journalism. Groups like PETA that do investigative journalism (advocacy journalism) are doing better than ever before. Up until recently the Wall Street Journal was doing fantastic because they had unique content. The people getting slammed were those who had nothing unique or special about their content. Groups like Gartner are making a ton for their research / journalism.

    I think what is fair to say though is so / so journalism is becoming free. Either the stuff is highly valuable / unique or you can’t get paid for it. Just showing up at the town meeting and writing what you saw ain’t gonna get you paid anymore.

  • CD-Host

    Patrick –

    I see no evidence that people have a less challenging media environment today than they did at any other point in my life. Take what happened with the media in the first Bush administration, which is what discredited the media. The Herman-Chomsky Propaganda Model used to describe (accurately IMHO) our press was written about traditional media. It essentially showed how US traditional media presented a uniform viewpoint.

    I’d put FoxNews or MSNBC up against NBC/ABC/CBS nightly news show from 20 years ago in terms of level of intellectual content or explanation of issues.

  • johnnutz

    I believe this article articulates well the gap in knowledge present between those who are informed (and vigorously work to stay that way) and those who casually follow the news.

    In the past one who casually followed the news in order to stay informed might not have a sophisticated understanding of all the issues but they would have a general knowledge of the facts. Today what is purported to be “News” (or at least is presented that way) is often opinion. A large swath of the population does not understand this and thus is often misinformed.

    Those with the inclination to stay informed have more tools at their disposal than ever. No one disagrees about that.

  • midcon

    And I might add, that many (but not all) of us here, have the ability to discern facts/news from opinion. If only the entire population were so well informed and able to actually have intelligent discussions regarding the news and issues. Remember, I said most, not all of us.

  • PatrickQuint

    CD-Host –

    My experience in-depth experience with news media, having begun less than 10 years ago, means that I do not have experience with cable news in the Cronkite era. I can buy that the news media was roughly as biased back in the bad old days.

    My last post was made in reference to internet media, which is becoming increasingly specialized as sites tailor themselves to their chosen niche is blogosphere. That trend seems clear.

  • jdipeso

    A concise summary of everything that’s gone wrong with journalism in the last 20 years. As someone who worked in newspapering during the days of manual typewriters and paste pots , I find the debasement of journalism to be one of the saddest developments of the modern age.

  • armstp


    Not sure you are quite getting it. I do agree the Internet is wonderful. There is a lot of new journalism occuring and it certainly is a very big and more powerful source of information, provided it is correct information.

    However, in your example of the townhall meeting, lets assume that the townhall actually has an online presence, which is not certain in this budget cutting era, and lets assume that the townhall puts all the information up on their site, although I am sure many in local government only put online information from townhall meetings that they want you to know, still that is not the same as journalism. The scenario you describe is mostly just presenting information.

    A journalist will make sure you know everything that went on at that townhall meeting and may actually ask a question or two. Very different.

    In terms of the people and groups you describe as making money online, I am not sure those groups you describe are journalists, nor that they make much money online. Woodward is clearly a journalist, but I am not sure he makes any money online. He still largely sells paper books, which makes him millions. He is an example of the “old” journalism.

    And if no one is getting paid for showing up at those townhall meetings then we have lost something. We have lost an ability to know what is going on with our government and also an opportunity to hold government accountable or at least ask the questions. Its ironic, however, is what has actually been saving newspapers to a certain extent in America is local content. Where we have really been losing is in international content, as news agency continue to shut down expensive foreign bureaus. American just become dumber and dumber about what is happening in the rest of the world. If we knew a little more internationally maybe we would not be so quick to go to war or become islamaphobic or understand that government healthcare systems work very well all over the world. Sure all that is availble on the Internet, but not everyone is seeing it or they only want to see what they want to see or believe on the Internet.

  • easton

    I read about Venezuela. The author of that site is frequently published in The New Republic (and yes, it is in English)

    I read the South China Morning Post for info. about China, Haaretz for information about Israel, the NYTimes for US information. These are things I couldn’t hope to do 20 years ago. It ain’t all bad.

  • armstp


    I could say the same, but many do not spend hours on the web. Most still rely on their morning paper into work or the television. International content is down in these traditional media outlets. And the South China Morning Post, Haaretz and the NYTimes do not make any money online. So they still count on the paper version, which if those continue to decline in revenue there may be no websites from these companies in the future for you to look at online. In fact, the NYT web content is about to go to a pay subscription service in 2011.

  • sinz54

    armstp: A journalist will make sure you know everything that went on at that townhall meeting and may actually ask a question or two. Very different.
    Thanks to YouTube,

    I can watch the entire video of the entire townhall meeting, and judge for myself.

    Thanks to the Internet,

    I can actually email folks who were at that townhall meeting, and ask them for their own impressions.

    What do I need the “journalist” for again?

    The Internet has made all of us partners in the news delivery business. We’re no longer content to just sit on our duffs on our sofas, passively watching and listening to whatever Walter Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley decide we should know. Instead, we’re now active participants. We look over the journalists’ shoulders. We pounce on any error, any slipup, and even the slightest whiff of bias–just as journalists would pounce on any such slipups by politicians. We dissect every word coming from journalists and analyze it endlessly.

    And it’s terrifying to the journalists. Because for the first time, they are receiving the same kind of adversarial scrutiny that they used to dish out to public figures. And for the first time, they’re having to pay a price for it. Dan Rather and Mary Mapes found that out the hard way.

    We are now the Fifth Estate.

  • armstp


    Great, but how many townhalls put their meetings on YouTube and how many people are going to watch all these meetings. That is why the journalist is there. To pay attention to what is going on, to be knowledgeable about the issues and to ask the right questions. Very different than just having it available on the Internet, even if it is available. In fact, attending townhall meetings was always largely available to the public. The Internet makes it easier, but that does not decrease the value of the local journalist.

    Journalist have always played a very important role, particularly in local government. They know the crime beat, they know the election beat, they know the etc. etc. They investigate corruption. They report on the local crime. They report on positive improvements. etc. etc. Having the information avaiable on the Internet is not the same. Just having the ability to read the crime stats and watch a meeting on YouTube is different. Journalism summarize and inform like the raw data cannot, which most people require.

    I agree, having the better scrutiny of journalist is good, but that does not make them less valuable.

  • CD-Host

    armstp –

    I think you may have missed the part about the town crank maintaining their own blog. They are the ones who provide the kind of information you would get from questioning.

    I’ve seen almost exactly this situation with the SBC. For decades they’ve been meeting and religious reporters have covered things. But once you had amateur reporters with infinite time there were discussions about upcoming legislations months in advance, real time blogging as things hit the floor that were of public interest and analysis for weeks after that got quite heated. At this point there are two aggregation blogs tracking the 40 or so dedicated blogs covering these meetings. The leaders of the SBC have absolutely had it with public scrutiny, which is to say leadership is being held accountable.

    Almost all these blogs started off as being run by the “town cranks”.

  • CD-Host

    Patrick –

    Well if it is internet to internet then I’m not sure the trend is so clear. When I was on the internet in the 1980s the “sites” (usenet groups, gophers…) were highly focused on particular types of news. The commercial sites that came in around the mid 1990s started to bring in general content but again the specialized websites seemed to dominate. So I guess, when is that you believe the internet was appealing to generalized audiences and not going after niches?

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  • rectonoverso

    ““You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.”

    This is a brilliant excuse, and Stewart is not the only one to use it”

    It’s not an excuse. It is at the core of the problem. If you label yourself News, you are legitimately to be held accountable for the reliability and the veracity of what you say. Stewart on the other hand has to be funny, if he ceases to do so his audience will vanish.

    The thing is media is not synonymous with news and journalism is not synonymous with punditry.

    PS: you failed to point out that the Israeli boarding of the Turkish ship in international waters was illegal, and that the crew was defending itself with knives against highly trained and fully armed commandos.

  • armstp


    “I think you may have missed the part about the town crank maintaining their own blog. They are the ones who provide the kind of information you would get from questioning. ”

    I am not sure who or what the “town crank” is, but that does not sound like objective journalism to me and certainly not a source of information that a broad section of the population, who currently either read newspaper or watch television will rely on.

    I agree all of this new online content adds to the information and opinion, whether the information is good or bad, but that is not journalism and really does not fill the role of journalism.

  • CD-Host

    armstp –

    OK lets do this again.

    The Base Information / What happned
    used to be covered by the Local newspaper
    now all the information is direct released by town council

    The Government prospective
    used to be covered by the local newspaper
    now it is covered by the government blog. And quite often this makes it easier for people to ask questions of thier elected officials.

    The opposition prospective
    generally wasn’t covered at all by local papers.
    But now we often have an opposition blog

    Finally the unaffiliated prospective
    Was sometimes provided by the local newspaper
    But now is provided by the town crank’s blog in vastly more detail.

    Now the town crank isn’t objective. He doesn’t have to be, his job is to be hostile but well informed. The conflation of “the government prospective” with “the objective prospective” is one of the things new media is disposing with. This conflation is one of the central principles of postmodernism. The prospective of the government, i.e. the powerful is not an objective prospective. Newspapers because they are advertising supported and need access are easily controlled by the ruling class. In the days when we had labor newspapers there was an alternative voice for the city level, but those haven’t existed in a few decades. Very large cities have an opposition press but most cities don’t and no town that I know do.

  • Madeline

    When Dan Rather and Mary Mapes tried to post unsupported “evidence” of Bush’s National Guard service on “60 Minutes,” the blogosphere exposed the evidence as flimsy. Mapes and Rather were fired.

    When Reuters’ photographers deliberately Photoshopped photographs of the Israel-Lebanon War in order to present a false impression, bloggers exposed it. The photographer was fired.

    Yes! And when James O’Keefe was found to have heavily edited the ACORN tapes and left out the fact that the ACORN employees had reported him to the police he was… fired? No! Lauded by the right-wing media.

    And when Andrew Breitbart was found to have posted a heavily edited version of Shirley Sherrod’s speech he was…ostracized? No! Held up as a hero by the tea party.

  • CD-Host

    Not really.

    James O’Keefe’s credibility was damaged. As was FOXes.
    And in the case of Andrew Breitbart you can see the effect of the O’Keefe scandal, even FOX started aggressively fact checking. Breitbart’s credibility was damaged as well. The new media are establishing their credibility or lack thereof.

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