Image by S_Mercurier
Today’s oped in the Washington Post by former Nightline Chief Ted Koppel declares the Death of Real News. Prompted by FOX and MSNBC’s clear political views, this piece declares something many have come to know: Our society has lost any resemblance of integrity in its news with very few exceptions. But given who said it — a hard newsman, an elder statesmen of the Golden Era of journalism — it is my feeling that the article will be remembered as a piece that marked a point in time that saw the end of uniform factual journalism across traditional media.
While there are holdouts — PBS, NPR, arguably the New York Times, to some extent the Wall Street Journal, and maybe CNN (at times) — news outlets have lost their soul, their revenue, and real hard journalists. Produced/printed with smaller budgets, younger and less experienced staff, and a hard target towards carving out niche clientele, news outlets opine more than produce facts these days.
“Truth” is not grounded as we have found out over an over again. The noble Fourth Estate has fallen far. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,’ seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts,” said Ted Koppel in his piece.
My Dad was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News when I grew up. I ran the halls of that newsroom as a tween. He is still a journalist today (not with PNI anymore), and I have watched him fight for his livelihood as the ad margins shrank, staff was dropped like confetti at a championship game, and the papers sold their souls.
In many ways this downfall has created the opportunity for micromedia to fill its place, bloggers if you would. The Fifth Estate keeps media accountable to some extent, and in other cases it has replaced journalistic ventures with outlets like the Huffington Post and Mashable. But in general, the new media is much more subjective, and less reliable. Worse, we are seeing less blogging as compared to the past, and in some cases, a disintegration of hard hitting conversations.
We are back to the 19th century when many town citizens had a printing press. Learning how to discern quality information is the most important skill set of 21st century. Otherwise, we will be caught in our various echo chambers, chasing the popular myths espoused by our social networks (on and offline).
The battle is not over. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are planning new electronic pay for content models. It may be time for the tide to turn, or at least become stemmed.
What is clear is the downward spiral of factual journalism has descended to the point of no return. The losses will not be recovered, and new media has reached an unprecedented point of power. We could see another era of factual value, but it won’t feature the powerhouse journalist in its traditional iconic image. Fractured media environments are not likely to consolidate. The real journalists that remain will survive on factual differentiation — an unusual offering in the 21st century media environment.
What do you think about Ted Koppel’s proclamation about the death of real news?