More thoughts on bad news reporting

John’s thoughts about bad news reporting as bad business prompted some thoughts of my own. In 2005, Scott and I spoke in Washington, DC at a Claremont Institute event on blogging. In my presentation, I discussed the ways in which the MSM might respond to the emerging challenge posed by new media. Having dealt professionally with business consultants, I knew they were preaching that when a business comes under pressure the best response is to “rely on the core” – that is, focus on the side of the business that the company does best, which is typically the side of the business that brought success in the first place.
The core of the modern news business is thought to be providing news accounts that consumers can rely on, both as to accuracy and relevance. In other words, the core mission is to make sure readers or viewers receive up-to-date reliable information across the full range of topical matters, unaffected (to the extent possible) by bias. Readers and viewers should not learn about the Van Jones matter only after he resigns.
It turns out (and not by coincidence, business consultants would say) that this core mission Is precisely the one that the MSM can accomplish and bloggers and other new media types cannot. Bloggers lack the resources needed to keep readers up to date on the full range of current events. And we lack the neutrality needed to report with equal dedication the foibles and scandals of both political and ideological factions. If a blogger breaks a scandal, it will almost inevitably be one that casts the other faction in a bad light, because that’s the kind of scandal the blogger is looking for and the one that will give the blogger satisfaction to uncover. In short, it’s where the fun is.
A news organization, by contrast, can cover the waterfront. And as a large organization, it’s more likely, at least in theory, than an individual or small group to seek out stories adverse to both sides and to screen out bias.
So I argued back in 2005 that the MSM could thrive if, and only if, it returned to its core, exploited its comparative advantage, and started “playing it straight.”
I don’t recall whether I made a prediction about whether the MSM would actually adopt this strategy, but I know that elsewhere I expressed serious doubts. It seemed to me that the conquest of liberal orthodoxy among certain key elites largely negated the normal tendency of a large organization to contain more diversity of viewpoints than a small group or even a single person.
I also wondered why reporters and editors would want to be constrained by principles of neutrality that bloggers are free to ignore. Why, in other words, should bloggers have all the fun? There was a time when reporters and editors may have obtained satisfaction by adhering to such principles. But with the idea of objectivity under such intense assault, that day has passed.
It is now quite clear that I was correct: from a business standpoint, the MSM is not responding rationally to the challenges it faces. It may even be committing suicide, as John Nolte believes. I suppose one should give it credit for having the courage of its convictions.


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