Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bad Journalism

Routinely, journalists try for sensationalism.   The News business has become more about the business and less about news.   Walter Kronkite was a man known for being trustworthy, now we have people known for being nasty.

A prime example of this was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

It compares the death rates from vehicles, drugs and firearms.   Firearms has a slight rise, and the vehicle death rate has a large drop.  Drug deaths rose dramatically from 2000 to 2006, but since then they began to drop slowly.   More importantly, since 2006, the vehicle death rate dropped about 20%  bringing it down below the death rate for drugs.  The story should obviously be either about drug deaths leveling off, ceasing their huge clime, or about vehicle deaths dropping like a stone.  

Then click on the story for the chart (,0,5517691.story
So, what is the headline?
"Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show"

They are so caught up in telling a story about drugs, that in reality is 5 years old - and no longer true.  So they ignore the real story - that drug deaths have leveled off, even began to drop, while vehicle deaths are practically disappearing.

It's not just an isolated case.  We've all seen the "horrible storm coming" stories that turns out to be nothing.  The same thing happens too often with regards to politics.  They talk about the guy yelling the stupidest, most ridiculous thing, ignoring the guy making sense.   You want to know why politics is so crazy?  At least a third of the reason is that media encourages it.  Not the politicians, not the voters, but the media.

This goes for the smaller media just as much as the big ones.  And it works on both sides.  Fox does it, but so does CNN.

Doing this drives up ratings, but down trustworthiness.     Its just another form of the "Tragedy of the Commons".  That is where you have a resource that everyone can use, so no one maintains it.   In this case, the resource is trustworthiness.

Like most Tragedy of the Commons, capitalism is the cause, not the fix.    I love capitalism, it is a great system, but it is not perfect. There are things it can not do, problems it creates, and this is one of them.  Anyone that tries to use capitalism within a family - having a wife charge her husband for chores, having the children pay for their dinner - etc. is committing a horrible offense against nature.  Similarly, a church whose prime goal was turning a profit is not a good idea.  Nor should police departments be about writing tickets.

Apparently, journalism is another case where capitalism does not work.  News is not just another way to make money, anymore than Religion, or marriage is.   I don't have a sure fire way to fix it, but I have some suggestions.  Maybe expanding the Pulitzer prize in some way - giving $10k to the finalists and $100k to the winners.  Now that we are depending more and more on the internet, perhaps some kind of Pulitzer Prize link systems where if you read one Pulitzer Prize winning website, it will direct you to another randomly chosen one.  Something that will encourage people to go to the best news sources as opposed to simply the most profitable.

No comments:

Post a Comment