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I'm reading Michael Hastings' blog post on media support of the war.  The points he makes should be no surprise to readers here on dkos: that it was a wise career move to support the war, and that there were no consequences for getting the war wrong.  I do want to argue one point, however: I think there was a consequence for getting the war wrong.  But it's not falling on the specific commentators or reporters who got the war wrong, instead it is falling on the industry as a whole: people just stopped reading newspapers.

I am an excellent example, I think, of exactly what is going wrong with the newspapers, and why they're bleeding readership.  The house I grew up in never subscribed to less than two newspapers (generally the Quad City Times and Des Moines Register) and at least one news magazine (generally Newsweek)- and both of my parents grew up in homes that did the same thing.  The nightly news- both national and local- was watched religiously- and, when it became available, CNN was a staple.  I myself am heavily literate and very interested in news and politics.

And yet, unlike my parents and grandparents before me, I don't subscribe to a single newspaper.  Not one.  Nor do I watch TV news- neither the evening news shows nor the various news channels.  What went wrong?

The short answer is that the media lost my trust.  And I don't think I'm alone in this.

The first thing to realize was that the media didn't suddenly fail in the run up to the Iraq war- the media had been failing, and in a suspiciously consistent pattern, for years or decades.  In addition to grossly failing the war reporting,
and more or less simultaneously with that, they were failing to report accurately and timely on the Dean campaign (I swear to god, if Howard Dean had said "I often beat my wife at chess", they'd have reported that he said "I often beat my wife" followed by days of breathless speculation about how often spousal abuse happens in the Dean campaign.  If you don't believe me, check out the "confederate flags on their pickup trucks" statement- both what was reported and the full sentence he actually said), warrant-less wiretapping (why was the story held back until after the 2004 election?), and the housing bubble/financial crisis.  Going back in time, you failures to report in a timely and accurate manner on the 2000 campaign (where Al Gore was a serial liar and Bush was fundamentally honest- talk about blowing a call), the internet bubble, the serial Clinton scandals of the Clinton years peaking with Monica Lewinsky, even Jimmy Carter's killer rabbit.

The point I'm making here is that there wasn't just one missed call- it was missed call after missed call, decade after decade.  

Trust is the most important quality and media site can have- including a blog.  But especially a media outlet that charges for it's content, like newspapers.  If I don't trust that the media is giving both accurate news and in a timely fashion, why am I paying for it?  TV news has kept it's audience, I think, primarily because it's free (once you pay for basic cable, which I don't).  Even if I don't trust the media, I might watch it or read it anyways if it's free, simply for the lack of anything better to do.  But if I'm paying for the content up front, I need to trust that the content will, in fact, be of value to me.

Consumers don't get a vote on who is on the editorial pages, and what qualifies as news or not, in the newspapers and magazines.  They only have one choice: buy, or not buy.  That's it.  When Michael Hastings said that there were no consequences to getting the war wrong, what he meant was that the editors and owners of those newspapers and magazines did not impose a consequence.  Instead, the consequence is being enforced by their readership making the one decision that can make, and simply not buying anymore.

This harms good reporting as well as bad reporting, I know.  But if there is no consequence for the repeated and large failures of reporting we've seen, then the bad reporting will continue to increasingly crowd out the good reporting.  Good reporting is dying in either case.  It is not we, the people who are no longer buying the newspapers and news magazines, who are killing good reporting- rather, it is the editors and owners of these companies who are killing it, by promoting bad reporting at the expense of good.  Who is killing the newspapers?  The newspapers themselves.

Originally posted to bhurt on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 04:31 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    "History does not always repeat itself. Sometimes it just yells, 'Can't you remember anything I told you?' and lets fly with a club." --John W. Campbell

    by bhurt on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 04:31:32 PM PDT

  •  Not to mention.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ssgbryan, The Wizard

    ...paraphrasing Tom Friedman here, who is sometimes right...

    Mock report from Iranian spies within the US to Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini (sp. ?):

    It is becoming quite difficult to get accurate news from open sources in the US. More and more, the daytime and early-evening cable teevee networks, and the mainstream press, publish propaganda, just like in Iran. Then, late at night, a pair of comedians on something called Comedy Central tell us the real news. This is becoming difficult to follow. (Friedman wrote something like this a while back).

  •  This diary is nonsense (0+ / 0-)

    While there is no doubt some people stopped buying newspapers due to the lack of real reporting leading up the Iraq war, the notion that it is even one of the major  causes of declining newspaper readership is nonsense. The key to the big city home delivered newspaper business is subscribers, not single newstand sales (maybe New York is an exception). If you read subscriber polls, as I once did for a major media chain, what you see is that people subscribe because of sports, a favorite columnist, or the style and entertainment section. These sections are "sticky", hard news is not. What has killed the big city home delivered newspaper business in the Internet. The Internet has taken their advertisers, particularly classified which was a gold mine. They have taken their readers, particularly young people who would start reading the daily newpaper at age 30 and every day until they died. Now the newspaper is a day old when it is delivered and the insight they bring in their reporting is not worth the premium of what is available for free. And many times the content is exactly the same. The demise of newspapers is about costs, not content. They are on a death spiral of lower revenues, less content and around they will go until they fail which will be soon. I still subscribe to multiple newspaters. I love newspapers and the feel of newsprint in my fingers. But this is a dying business killed by the Internet, not because they were drum beaters for a war in Iraq.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 05:14:38 PM PDT

  •  This diary is exactly right (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ssgbryan, Fixed Point Theorem

    I first subscribed to the NYTimes in 6th grade, that is, I had my own personal subscription. When I moved to the Boston area as a young adult I subscribed to the Boston Globe. For some reason I went back to The Times in the late 90s. After their soft dissing of Al Gore, then their coverage and cheer leading of the run up to the Iraq war I'd about had it and I told them so. I canceled my subscription and whenever they call, as it happens often, I mention their support of the Iraq war and the reporting of Judith Miller. I'm waiting for a hard apology on page one and a thorough analysis of every erroneous article about Iraq in the NYTimes during the lead up to the war. If they do that, then I'll renew my subscription.

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