I had a thought the other day that really worries me – that we are, bit by bit, losing the news.
It is strange, as the world expands with blogging, websites, and personal account reporting you would think that we would be getting more news than ever and, to a degree that is true, but this comes with an asterisk. Sure, we get more news but we are getting more and more news that has fewer facts checked and more conjecture.
News is becoming more about opinion and less about fact.
The crazy this is that it would seem that this is what we want.
Witness the rise of the paparazzi and ‘entertainment’ news. Sure, I want to know what is happening in the entertainment industry, and people who write on it are fine, but when it begins to dip into the personal lives of these people we are pushing past the boundaries that had once been understood and followed. So much time is spent on the stories of the fall and rise of the famous and beautiful that you would think these are the policy makers of the world.
Tell me about the record coming out, not how many drugs the band had to take to get it done.
This sort of news, the tabloid news though, that’s not really my problem. Sure, it can be terribly ugly but there has always been that manner of news, it’s just more readily available and has entered the mainstream pretty strongly these days. My concern is more that the slow death of the newspaper is bound to have consequences we don’t fully realize yet. Personally, I don’t get my news from the newspaper. I can’t honestly afford it anymore, and I am not the biggest fan of how many journalists write (a personal issue with the use of adjectives in stories, but then maybe that’s because I wouldn’t want to read about how a loved one CRASHED into a tree or was SMASHED in the face with a bottle). I see the necessity of the newspaper though. I see the need for knowing the stories that connect us all. It’s a shame that newspapers have become so expensive to run and maintain because this is an era where we need more information that is tethered to fact. But the facts are that things are vastly more expensive than they once were and, as such, newspapers are finding they cannot run every day, or must raise prices, or must let people go or, in some cases, must simply close up shop. It’s a simple fact of economics – if there is no market for newspapers, then you can’t produce them.
I remember being on a panel that was trying to help the Flint newspaper become better. I had written them a few times to comment on stories and somehow or other landed on this panel. It was an interesting experience and led me to write for them briefly. The thing is that, even then, five years or more ago, newspapers were on the decline. I still think there is value in newspapers but I think they are missing the point sometimes and miss that entertainment (comprehensive entertainment) coverage and local coverage (comprehensive coverage) are what make local papers strong. I buy USA Today to get a national perspective, sort of a look from above at some of the stuff going on, which is why it’s a great ‘vacation’ paper. I buy local papers to get the view from street level.
With the closing of local news offices, and the conglomerization of the bigger papers we are going to see the death of local news coverage. I mean, why would someone in New York care about an elderly woman in Flint who had her power shut off and is freezing to death in the middle of the winter? A story like that matters to me because the emotional fallout radius is a lot closer. But local stories, small stories, do not generally sell papers. NEWS sells papers, not news. The rub of it is though that the world is connected by ‘news’ because those stories are about the real us of the day to day.
So, if newspapers are drying up, where do we get the local news? My girlfriend, a journalism major, told me that while the medium sized city papers are not doing well, that the small town papers are. Well, that’s good. It’s a small victory, though many of those only cover bake sale and fundraiser stories. So we have small town papers, then what? Local television news is all about sound bites and immediacy so you cannot rely on them. Ok, now what? Blogging?
I love blogging, obviously, and have a great respect for it. Blogging though is a step, a defined one, yes, but still just a step, away from personal journaling, where I got into this whole thing. The difference to me is that a journal is about YOU and a blog is about US. That’s MY definition. Sure, I deal with issues concerning me when I blog but I try to be more reasoned and eloquent than when I wrote journal entries, which were more about me and how I felt and where I was in that moment. Blog news worries me deeply BECAUSE it is so close to journaling. It is not always fact checked. It is not always honest. And it is far too easy for someone to start a blog and just use it to take aim at a person, a group, or a topic that they want to see taken down.
Blogging is still in its infancy, which, seeing how far it has come, is a pretty good thing, but still a dangerous thing. The good thing though is that, because it is in its infancy, it can still grown and get better. It’s my hope that, with blogging getting bigger, and people finding ways to make some money at it, we’ll have not less but MORE news and MORE stories told. More local stories, more small stories, more REAL stories. Sure, it’s a big deal that there is a war, or a presidential election, or any number of things that is an overarching story but the small stories link us. The small stories ARE us. And without the small stories, there IS no news, and no US.