No News Is Bad News

February 4, 2013

We all accept that the Internet is replacing newspapers and even broadcast media as the primary source of news.

But what if something worse is happening?  What if people are deciding that they don’t care about news?

Online media readership passed up traditional media readership in 2010.  The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism noted that, “34% of respondents said they read news online within the past 24 hours (as opposed to 31% who favored newspapers); and a full 41% said they get most of their news online, 10% more than those who said they got most of their news from a newspaper.”

For its 2012 “State of the Media” report, The Pew Project noted the rise in mobile applications and wrote that, “Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others are maneuvering to make the hardware people use, the operating systems that run those devices, the browsers on which people navigate, the e-mail services on which they communicate, the social networks on which they share and the web platforms on which they shop and play.”

As a former journalist who still subscribes to four real newspapers, I’m not feeling too warm and fuzzy about this.

The Changing Nature of News

It’s not the change in the delivery system that bothers me – it’s the nature of news.  The Internet is a great place to check the weather, traffic and sports scores (and to read my blog, of course).  Real news, though, is less prominent and, where it does appear, content is often truncated to appeal to the online reader.

Much of what appears online is not fit for consumption.  There has never been so much celebrity news, fluff news and advocacy journalism.  Michelle Obama’s new haircut gets more attention than the lack of a federal budget.

The Pew Project focuses on the future of media, but it would be much more valuable to focus on the future of news.  Real news is available online for those who take the time to search for it, but are people really spending more time reading hard news online than they are spending on their Facebook pages?  How many people are going online to read the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times?  How much in-depth investigative journalism can we expect to find online?

Maybe we shouldn’t care if real news becomes passé.  After all, media are just adjusting to the demands of their target audiences.  But consider the consequences:

  • Ignorance is not bliss.  When the electorate is uninformed, we will get more corruption, more wasteful spending and more tax hikes.
  • Fewer people will vote.  When you don’t read or watch the news, you don’t care.  When you don’t care, you don’t vote.
  • Those with personal interests will decide elections.  Lobbyists and others who benefit from government giveaways will have more influence than ever.

News is undergoing a transformation.  Maybe it just needs to evolve further.  Maybe the online delivery system will prove to be superior to tradition media.  Maybe, but I doubt it.

 

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