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Saturday, January 9, 2010

If You Read It In Print

What does the media consider the news of the day? Is it possible that the media controls people's frames of reference and desires by reporting stories, opinions, and sensational happenings to increase their circulation or viewership? Are these so-called "new agencies" helping form slanted opinions by selective process?

Today, since the race to be most instantaneous with the news is foremost, the haste of reporting often causes printed media, broadcast media, Internet coverage, and word of mouth to report without proper confirmation and depth, and the result is that false or misleading information is released to the public. The public, in turn, spreads the sound bites and limited information in a chain of the old parlor game of "gossip."

Sometimes, media gives tremendous coverage to sensational breaking news, sacrificing much time and space for these seedy headline stories over reports of major importance. The "media frenzy" continues until the public tires of excess trivial coverage and chooses to move on to other "spicy" news stories. Journalists, in an effort to keep the stories in the public eye, milk every scintillating detail until the story eventually runs dry. It is not unusual for journalists of today to inject their personal biases and even succumb to commercial or political pressures to print "spins." This happens on world, national, state, and local levels.

Of course, absolute objectivity is nearly impossible, but any objectivity is becoming unpopular as the media increasingly relies upon editorials to influence reactions to the hard news. "Spoon feeding" readers is common practice. Even smaller papers are quick to join the unsubstantiated claim and the politically correct. Popular columnists who write with well-documented research have been cut due to expense. Papers push advertising, for obvious reasons, over in-depth news.

Besides, Professor Phil Meyer used the Flesch-Kincaid index and identified today's average newspaper reader as "a junior-high schooler left behind" to convince newspaper writers "to scribble their stories at a sixth- to eighth-grade level." Meyer said, "Those newspapers with the biggest difference - that is, those that write most below the reading level of the community - rank highest." (Tim Porter, "Reading the Vanishing Newspaper," February 12 2005) So, what is the incentive for papers to detail and fully illustrate content? 

Take a local paper for example. Most people get national news from television reports or online. As Walt Disney discovered, inanimate photos often trump print and animation usually trumps photos. Television and digital media have become the media sources of choice. Why? Although a paper has the potential to cover news in more detail than television, most publishers can afford to produce only a shriveled version of a paper. To be fair, radio probably initiated this decline many decades ago. Now, talk radio is one of the most popular means of distributing news and opinions. The small "inky" just cannot generate the needed revenue or audience to produce a decent product.

Creativity and total local coverage have dwindled. Faced with budget cuts and bankruptcies, papers have cut the scope of their once broad coverage and cut employees who once produced such content. Local major news coverage has shrunk, society news has suffered, sports reports have been delayed, detailed follow-up stories have shortened, on-the-spot coverage had dwindled, major advertisements have been pulled, and tight-fisted editors have decided what few contributing reports coincide with their personal policies. The meat and potatoes of the newspaper past is now a thin slice of baloney lacking the sustenance to sustain lifeblood. 

Face it: as David Lieberman reported in USA Today (November 13, 2009), "Sometime soon, millions of people may find themselves unwittingly involved in a test that could profoundly change their daily routines, local economies and civic lives.They'll have to figure out how to keep up with City Hall, their neighborhoods and their kids' schools — as well as store openings, new products and sales — without a 170-year-old staple of daily life: a local newspaper."

Lieberman continued, "Almost everyone agrees that newspapers must reinvent their business models. Experiments include The New York Times' plan to enlist journalism students to help cover some neighborhoods in Brooklyn and New Jersey. The East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz., recently began to offer free home delivery four days a week to neighborhoods with families that appeal to advertisers." 

Everywhere in the country, newspapers are pitching out stock tables, eliminating such once-venerable features as extended sports coverage and their own editorial cartoonists, and consolidating or killing sections of interest.

One solution to newspaper woes is the newspaper Web site. Jack Shafer (, June 24 2006) reported, "The 1.1 million-circulation New York Times served 25 million unique readers in April via its Web site, according to its own logs., which serves 80 percent of its audience outside the D.C. area, has made the Washington Post a national newspaper."

Take the local newspaper, The Portsmouth Daily Times, for an example of a changing, dying print paper. Their "inky" is a very brief production with few local hard news stories, some filler popular content, and very little else beyond a gentle human interest story. The inverted pyramid reporting is terse and seldom illustrative in detailed content. Most people I know subscribe to the Daily Times to keep current with the daily obituaries, and they claim the cost of the paper is not worth the total content they receive in the bargain.

A once cherished daily read for subscribers has declined into an extended newsletter. To keep up with modern demand and to generate national revenue, The Daily Times started an online version that quite frankly, re-condenses the already condensed print version to the point I feel as if I am reading diluted, stale daily information synonymous with eating the sparse content of the ketchup and hot water tomato soup of Dustin Hoffman and John Voight in the movie Midnight Cowboy.

Another institution of the area, the daily paper, is slipping away, and I am saddened by its passage. We reminisce about Dreamland Pool, Chillicothe Street on Friday nights, a respectable city building, and once industrial greatness with bruised hearts. The Daily Times used to keep its pulse on the heartbeat of the city. An anticipated joy to read has become another vestige of "what used to be." I can't help but think about why this publication is suffering. I can't help but wonder if the changes reflect not only the economy and changes in media preference but also reflect agendas largely unknown to the average citizen of the community.

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