Friday, May 19, 2006


An interesting report has popped up from the UM Extension office (tip o' the hat to Chatter's Ron Davis for the lead): Newspaper editors and reporters say problems with the media's credibility are mostly not their fault.

According to a study from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, editors and reporters find that "external factors" weaken public confidence in newspapers. Things such as rhetoric from pundits, ethical lapses from national sources and increased access to agenda-driven media do more to undermine newspapers' credibility than anything the newspapers could do themselves.

As a newspaper guy, the Mailbox will weigh in: It's true. This study confirms that newspaper reporters and editors think highly of themselves, compared to their TV and radio brethren. As they should.

Think about this: When was the last time a TV station aired a correction? When was the last time you heard Rush or O'Reilly say they were wrong? When was the last time you saw Jon Stewart roast a newspaper journalist? You can probably count all those instances on one hand.

Think also about this: If you wrote down every word from a big-time, meaty, two-minute report on TV, you'd have about 400-500 words. That's a mere 15-18 inches of newscopy. Add in all the time talking heads spend spewing their opinion (including how the media is evil) and you have a whole lot of gristle and fat in your news-steak.

The Mailbox's well-researched, based-off-nothing-but-opinion bottom line: Those who read the written word get much more information in a shorter amount of time. The people who read their news know more and need more that spoken-word news just doesn't provide. Don't get the Mailbox wrong: There is good TV journalism out there. Unfortunately, it is the needle in the haystack.

On the other hand, this nation is filled with outstanding print journalists who provide good stories about their communities. Often, the only journalists at some events are from newspapers only. This study may make reporters and editors look cocky, but (at the risk of confirming said cockiness) they do a higher caliber of work that TV reporters just can't provide. We have a right to be proud of ourselves. And when TV does cover a local story, it's usually because they got it from a newspaper.

Agreed as far as the print vs. TV debate, but I think you where my biases lie on that one!

One other thing that jumped out to me in this study was low numbers (mostly single digit percentages) for the Audience-Related Factors in Decline Support for newspapers. Only a few journalists believe that the public's misunderstanding of what we do and how and why we do it is at fault for declinging cred.

DO NOT get me wrong. I am NOT blaming the audience. I blame ourselves. Journalists hound every institution in America for greater transparency and yet we do such a bad job of being transparent ourselves. There are a lot of factors in play here, as the study shows, but I believe we are partly to blame for the public's misunderstand of what journalists do.
Painting with some very large brush strokes, aren't you? Case in point, the News-Leader did not cover Craig Harpool's news conference kicking off his campaign for state senate. KY3 did. That's local news not covered by the local newspaper, covered by local television.

Print and broadcast have good and bad journalists. So there is truth in your statements. But you appear to be condemning all broadcast journalism and promoting all print journalism. The National Enquirer is not tabloid television.
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