Hard times for ‘hard’ news

November 25th, 2015 | Posted by jameswatkins in Uncategorized

For fifteen years I wrote for a newspaper. The kind you can use to housebreak puppies, make papier-mâché art projects and wrap dishes for moving. But daily “paper” papers have dropped from a high of nearly 1,800 in 1945 to about 400 today. Circulation per capita has dropped below 15 percent.

I haven’t subscribed to a print paper for nearly twenty years. Teddy is gone, no more school-aged children and the next time I move, I want to go feet first.

The online news aggregate site, Drudge Report, made journalism history when in 1996 it was the first news source to break then-president Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Newsweek initially declined to run the story. Since then, Drudge Report has gained a loyal following of 2 million unique visitors per day beating out USA Today with 1.7 million subscribers and The New Times which has less than 1.4 million subscribers.

Digital dinosaurs face extinction

The prehistoric crocodile managed to survive the extinction of the massive dinosaurs by becoming smaller and more agile. In the same way, the print brontosauruses require large staffs, massive presses and an army of people delivering the news to your door step once a day.

Matt Drudge, with his computer and website, is the agile crocodile with no reporters (virtually all content is links from other news sites), no designers (the simple—crude—design hasn’t changed in years) and a staff of three, including himself. Business Insider estimates that Drudge, as sole owner, makes between 15 and 20 million dollars a year from advertising.

It’s hard for paper newspapers to compete when it arrives at your doorstep—or more likely in your bushes—once a day, while major online news sites offer live streaming of news events to your handheld device. Even Drudge can be slow in Internet terms compared to Twitter and Facebook.

Hard news faces extinction

The Brookings Institute warns, “While the Internet world has made it possible for everyone to express their opinion widely—whether they know anything or not—it has also confused readers. In the absence of supposedly neutral intermediaries such as reporters, fact-checkers, and editors, readers are having a hard time judging the credibility of what they read.”

If that’s not enough to make you lose your breakfast all over your keyboard, Nick Denton, the managing editor of Gawker.com, confirms Brookings greatest fears: “I think it’s implicit in the way that a website is produced that our standards of accuracy are lower. Besides, immediacy is more important than accuracy, and humor is more important than accuracy.”

Surviving the digital news age

So, how do you sort out the news from the views? How can you find the “hard” truth?

Search out multiple sources. My Internet book marks embrace both “conservative” and “liberal” sites: Drudge and The Huffington Post, Fox News and CNN, etc. No media is truly unbiased or even “fair and balanced”!

Learn to make the distinction between reporting the news and advocating an agenda. For instance, notice how, presidential candidate Ben Carson is being grilled on the veracity of his bio, but Hillary Clinton’s long list of confirmed lies (daughter Chelsea jogging around the World Trade Center on 9/11, the two coming under “sniper fire” while visiting Bosnia and more) are completely ignored.

Go to primary sources. The media—whether it’s The New York Times or Drudge—are secondary sources, rather than primary or “eye witness” accounts. Even “live streaming” can be deceptive with camera angles and cropping, the subjects interviewed, etc.

Track down the person’s actual interview. Again, Ben Carson, was taken completely out of context when he said he would be “uncomfortable” with a Muslim president. He actually said he would be uncomfortable with any president who governed by his religion rather the Constitution.

Track down the source of the original study. Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Cherry-picking statistics from any study can skew the interpretation.

Become your own “fact checker”

Getting away with biased or advocate journalism is impossible in the new age of the Internet. You don’t have to rely on the big three networks to tell you each evening “and that’s the way it is” without question. You can instantly “google” an event to find multiple perspectives on any issue.

So . . . be ‘hard’ on news sources!

Copyright © James N. Watkins

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This post originally appeared in Presidential Prayer Team “Viewpoint.”

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