Monday, December 1, 2008

R.I.P. Real News

At the risk of being a little too "inside baseball", I'm going to write today about the pending demise of real news. Whether you knew it or not, "real news" has been on life support for quite some time, but with the continuing collapse of newspapers, there is little reason to believe there will be anyone left within a few years to actually COVER the news.

You see, there is a very real food chain in the news business, and for the most part, that chain begins with newspapers. What starts as an item in a community paper gets picked up by the Washington Post, then makes it onto the Associated Press wire, and eventually onto radio, TV and the internet. Despite what all of those TV promos tell you, there's actually very little actual reporting going on - at least in local TV and radio news. It's the newspapers that are setting the news budgets in most cities, and for the msot part, what you see on TV at 6 pm was in the newspaper earlier that morning.

Now, with newspapers cutting staff left and right, there's less content being fed to the wires, and lower quality showing up on your TV and radio. This is all have a self-destructive effect. As time goes on, there are fewer jobs for journalists, and fewer resources for investigative reporting. Fewer people with lesser skills are ending up editing wire copy, making the AP less of a value for newspapers, which are now starting to drop the AP as a whole. The AP, meanwhile, is turning more and more of its news efforts away from print coverage to television and internet news instead. This is not good news.

Love it or hate it, the Associated Press has been the standard for American journalism for more than a hundred years. The AP has largely been "vanilla", but at least it has been reliable. Now, that reliability is turning instead into a liability. The AP's quality, especially at the local level, has really tanked in recent years, and the piranhas at CNN are smelling blood, launching their own wire service to rival the AP. No offense to CNN, but there is no way it can build a cost-efficient wire service to rival the AP. It will be able to sell print versions of some of its excellent international and national political coverage, but trying to build a wire that includes local news - especially at a time when local newspapers (remember the food chain) are closing in droves - will just not work.

So - what does this mean for you - the consumer? Sadly, I think it means you'll soon be on your own in terms of knowing what is really going on in your local communities. The local paper here, the Gazette, has been an excellent source for community news, but it has already gone through significant cutbacks and consolidation. If and when the Gazette goes, I don't know what we'll be left with... But I think you may be counting on bloggers to deliver what passes for local news in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime - with apologies to Heroes on NBC - SAVE YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER, SAVE THE WORLD!

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