Thursday, April 22, 2010

 

ODE TO 20TH CENTURY JOURNALISM

The proliferation of personal communication devices, and the explosion of the social networking phenomenon via the Internet have strained the practice of journalistic integrity near its inability to recover.

I should not have been shocked last week (though I was) to witness a seasoned practitioner of the trade, Larry King, reduced to interviewing the judges from "American Idol" on his once top-rated nightly CNN show. The lines separating news and entertainment; opinion, rumour and fact; professional from amateur have been obliterated during this first decade of the 21st Century.

Anyone with a connection to the Internet may now contribute to the discourse of public conversation. Doubtless it is more democratic, but is it any more healthy? In the United-States a recent survey conducted by the reputed Pew Research Center notes that Americans have become a nation of "news grazers" whose..."relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized and participatory."

But: In a society where journalism (Voyeurism to some degree - I digress!) includes citizens with cellphone cameras; the micro-blogging service Twitter; social media Facebook, and millions of blog sites and bloggers, few of us have neither the time, nor the skills and ability to sort-out the news from the entertainment, and the facts from the fiction.

The U.S. media reported recently about a debate within Fox News which has divided the organization over journalistic principles and the antics and pronouncements of its highest rated program hosts (to be polite) the eccentrics Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. Little wonder that the Pew Research survey referenced above found that 70% of its respondents were "overwhelmed" by the amount of news and information from different sources and; more critically, that almost two-thirds (72%) thought most sources of news were biased.

Most current efforts by 20th Century media organizations to carve-out 21st Century niches amongst the clutter of un-traditional journalism are frequently misguided.- Which may explain why Larry King interviews "American Idol" has beens; Barbara Walters hosts "The View"; and CBC News Network's "Power and Politics" interviews Kitty Kelley about Oprah's biography.

The sensible late 20th Century phenomenon of "All-News" TV channels has evolved from a desire for competent round-the-clock journalism to a relentless competitive aggressive multi-channel universe. Each of which; in a relentless search of audiences and revenue; has devolved, along a particular political bias and agenda, from sensible journalistic choice to an egregious barrage of infotainment alternatives. In the process each bears a substantial level of blame for elevating the mundane to manufactured crisis. As in the case of last fall's "swine flu" pandemic. And, perhaps more recently the grounding of all flights over Europe; and (here in Canada) scandalous allegations involving a former junior Cabinet Minister and her partying husband.

It seems that the traditional news hierarchy has been up-ended. A recent opinion forum published in "USA Today" concludes that consumers of information are both overwhelmed and appallingly under-informed..."With actual news, and items that look suspiciously like news, coming at us from a variety of outlets, how do we know what to trust? How do we distinguish credible information from raw information, misinformation and propaganda?"

Then why should anyone seek-out quality journalism - especially if we believe anyway that it's all driven by opinion, entertainment, ratings, revenues and bias?

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