This is an oldie but goodie. It’s an oldie because for years there has been almost universal consensus that the mainstream media (MSM) is letting us all down – in many ways. Yet, while the MSM’s flaws seem so entrenched, the topic is still a goodie because the news business is changing so rapidly that maybe some of its worst flaws actually can be fixed, or at least minimized. Ron’s idea for this week was to focus on one particularly sorry aspect of the MSM: The lousy job it does, for the most part, as watchdog over the powerful.
To me, the media’s watchdog function consists of some combination of:
- Investigative journalism (of corruption and malfeasance in government, corporate, and other elite institutions).
- Separating true political statements from false ones.
- Giving the public the basic facts and context it needs to understand what political elites are doing for (to) them.
I read a fair amount of media criticism. So, in a 10-15 minute (max!) opening, I’ll lay out the major criticisms of how the MSM handles these three functions, and then I’ll tick off some of the causes usually cited. However, my value-added will be to focus on how changes to journalism’s business model affect its watchdog function. To me, structural changes in the MSM and competitive pressures do more to erode its watchdog function than the usual biases cited by partisans, such as ideological and class biases.
For our discussion, I’ll try to keep us focused on the full range of reasons why the MSM keeps failing us.
(BTW, Americans are viewing more news, not less. As this old post mentioned, newspapers are in decline and TV and radio usage is flat, but digital news sources have more than made up for it. So, people want to be informed.)
This week’s links are a bit eclectic.
- The quest for innocence and fake neutrality are the problem. The “cult of “balance.“
- The actual ideology of the American press.
- Shrinking newspapers are killing the media’s watchdog capabilities.
- The brave new world of interactive media.
- The bright side: “Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media,” from James Fallows at The Atlantic.
Finally, as usual The Daily Show sums it all up better than anyone.