The Decline of Journalism

It is natural to feel less informed about your country of origin when you’ve been gone for a few years.  Such is the case with me.

I still have access to most of the same news sources.  My hometown newspapers are online, major news channels are available here in English (CNN, CNBC and so on) and of course there are the blogs.  Yet I still feel out of touch with what is really going on back in the old country (by which I mean the US).

Then it struck me, most US news organizations have devolved into glorified twitter accounts.  To be fair to twitter, this started long before their service became available though the end result is the same.   The quality of reporting by news organizations like SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times is declining.  They blame this on the Internet, of course.

It all became clear to me when I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs which deals with the media, On the Media.  They were interviewing a medium sized news organization in the US which is bucking the trend and doing much better than their counterparts.  Why?  The editor had one simple reason… when under increased competition from Internet sources and other traditional news sources they increased their investment into their news gathering operation rather than make cuts.

In today’s modern world the first instinct of medium and large businesses is to make cuts to stem the flow of red ink.  That often leads to a situation where the doctor is cutting off the patient’s arm in an attempt to save their life but paying no attention to the quality of life thereafter.

So we end up with news channels like CNN, CNBC and company which are more entertainment offerings with music that belongs to action movies and twitter like updates on major celebrities.  Things which make no difference in our lives.  This also, unfortunately, applies to English new sources in Europe that follow the popular Internet startup trends.

By contrast I find news sources like the BBC and the BBC Worldservice to be better, though not perfect.  One source that I highly recommend, however, is Euronews.  Aimed at a pan European audience with minimum commentary, their news is undiluted.

During the celebrations surrounding the reunification of Germany, Euronews ran interviews of pivotal figures that the rest of the media organizations were ignoring.  Generals and senior officials, including the Prime Minister, of Poland and the old East Germany prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example.  The interviews were candid and reflected a more realistic mindset than the propaganda that I was brought up with.  How were the other Warsaw Pact nations going to react to the fall of the wall and the possible collapse of the Soviet state?  Not many other news organizations asked those questions.

Europe is a big place though, so Euronews does not offer detailed coverage of any particular region.  That is where some sources like The Local (news in English for Sweden and Germany) come into play.  Unfortunately, The Local is following the same pattern as most other online news outlets.  There is a lack of background information on most articles and the copy editing has been showing distinct signs of decline.

If more of these organizations invested more into their core news gathering operations we’d see more detailed information about the world we live in.  With that we can make better decisions about the world.  If we just follow the lead stories without the background information we tend to think the world is becoming more intolerant and narrow minded.  The recent reports about the Swizz vote to ban minarets for example.  But against that backdrop of seeming European intolerance, more and more foreign born politicians are becoming elected representatives in the European national parliaments every year… even right here in Germany.  That is hardly a sign of intolerance.

Readers and listeners of Der Spiegel and Deutsche Welle (both of which have English language operations) were better informed about these kinds of events.

Lastly, I want to mention one more novel news item called “No Comment.”  No Comment is a project of Euronews where raw news footage is shown with no commentary at all.  The only sounds you here come straight from whomever is being filmed.  You won’t get so much detailed information but it might make you curious enough to try to look things up on your own.  It seems that the editors have realized that viewers need to do their own research to get a good picture of their own world.

Maybe I should take their advice on trying to keep current in my old hometown rather than rely on those news channels.

-Geoff