The decline of news and news quality

Pew Research reported that “U.S. newspapers have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008

While print news has lost 36,000 employees, other parts of “journalism” have only added 10,000 for a net loss of 26,000. The BLS predicts that employment will continue to drop.

And the reality is much worse than the numbers because TV news has grown the most in raw numbers and TV news is much lower quality information than print news. TV emphasizes drama and emotion over analysis and research. There is much less depth and less editing. The priority in video is to get dramatic video footage, not to explain and inform.

Plus, the industry is shifting from expensive investigative reporting to more opinion. CNN and Fox news are the two most important sources of news for Americans and Fox has been gradually reducing its journalism and replacing them with opinion shows because opinion shows develop loyal followers whereas news consumers are fickle and go to wherever the current reporting is best about any particular story. Talk shows are cheaper and more consistently entertaining. There is never a “slow news day” on a talk show because outrage can always be generated. As a critic of CNN put it:

While CNN star anchor Anderson Cooper was a good reporter, he was boring. “Would you watch an old guy talk rationally about a topic? Bet you’d rather watch two hot chicks who are smart and who disagree, yell at each other”

So CNN replaced its CEO with Jeff Zucker who wanted to make it more entertaining. He let Trump dominate the “news” during the 2016 presidential campaign because Trump was so darn entertaining.  All that free “news” coverage boosted Trump to win the election without having to buy much advertising for his campaign.

Other “news” sources also seem to be moving towards more cheap opinion and fluffy human interest stories and away from investigative news too. The New York Times has elevated it’s expanded opinion section so that it fits on the online front page of the website.

As NassimTaleb wrote in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, the enormous explosion of information we have had is mostly an explosion of noise more than an increase in signal (truth).  The best way for anyone to get attention in the flood of information is to become more dramatic rather than more accurate, particularly when drama is much cheaper to produce than accuracy.

Who will do the kind of investigative journalism that really make the world a better place and the research that keeps democracy healthy and will it be enough to survive the flood of noise and drama that is more profitable?

Posted in Public Finance

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