Thursday, December 11, 2008

No News is Bad News

CityBeat's Kevin Osborne touches on the overall problem with the staffing cuts at the Enquire. Like it or not, we have only one major news gathering company in this town, the Enquirer. Local TV News stations do not gather much news, other than headlines and video. You don't get much fact and there is a void of in-depth reporting in television. What makes a real news outlet is its ability to get first run original copy on a huge variety of subjects. How is that done? You must have feet on the streets going places and asking questions. More and more we only have people working in their offices getting emails and making phone calls. Photographers will be eye witness to events, but that is about it. Sending people out for interviews? How often does that happen with a print reporter anymore? They are not given the choice. Editors don't even have the choice to let go look for news. News gathering for the Enquirer has become a passive activity. That is not just because of finances, it by design.

Fewer people doing more work is not going to produce wider or better coverage. We are seeing this first hand with the death of the Enquirer's arts coverage. You can't decimate your staff and expect comprehensive coverage. CityBeat right now, for a weekly publication, has more theatre and visual arts coverage, than the Enquirer. The Enquirer only wins in classical music, which is not a big area for CityBeat. For CityBeat, this is great news, they become the better source. I have to say for the arts and the for reading public it is really bad news. It is so valuable to have two (or more) full opinions on current local productions. With the cuts in staff at the Enquirer and the limiting of space in the paper for arts overall, there is a huge drop that hurts our society. Local News is going the way of the Independent Hardware Store. The Media Wal-marts are destroying all that is local, all in the name of profit. The media believe, with much evidence, that their target audience, suburban and exurban parents, don't leave their homes, so the only arts they care (or need to know about) are national stores, which is Entertainment most of the time, not art. It is movie and DVD releases. It is Oprah's bookclub picks. It is reaction to NY fashion. It is Seven Mary Three coming to town masquerading as music coverage.

Blogging and social networking websites are taking up some of the slack. Blogs are a but a mere firewall. Blogs are not able to provide a large enough news gathering source to make up for the shortfall. There is a market for local news, but the profit margin isn't something that is going to find any investors. Social Networks are not organized and lack focus. They are become a great way to get the word out about an event. They are still limited, but for some organizations they can reach 90% of their known audience. They don't allow a good means of expansion, however.

How as a society are we going to weather this? How do we adapt? How do we get credible news out to the public, the type news they need, not just the puff crap they are being fed?

How do we keep real journalism alive? I honestly don't know. Trust is a key element of journalism. Blogs and social networks are not great ways to build trust. Institutions are how your build credible trust that last beyond one person running a blog. We can't rely on individuals to be there all the time. We need organizations that can have credibility beyond one person's reputation. I don't know where this trust will come from. As a blogger, I will keep on looking for ways for my blog to at least be more than just me. That is not easy, so lets all keep on looking for more ways to keep news alive.

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