Self-Important Journalists

I recently expressed my rather low opinion of the mainstream news media but for readers who want some balance on the issue, I present this link to a New York Times (NYT) editorial titled, “The Daily Me.” The author’s point is similar to other arguments that online media and user-edited repositories like Wikipedia are harmful to the ignorant masses.

I propose a very simple test. People consume news media to learn about what’s going on. The reason they do this is to make good decisions about what to do next (whatever that means in each individual’s life). If you were thinking about buying a home in the next year or two, you may start reading your local paper’s real estate news. People read the Wall Street Journal to make better business and investment decisions. So on and so forth.

So let’s be clear — if a reader made home-buying decisions based partly on knowledge gleaned from the Sacramento Bee‘s real estate coverage from 2004-2006, most likely, that person made one of the biggest financial mistakes of his life.

The Wall Street Journal is the second largest distributed newspaper in the country and yet, how many readers were prepared for this horrific bear market?  If people took any of the drivel on CNBC seriously, they probably lost a lot of money.

This is rubber-meets-road territory. If you wanted to prepare for the shitstorm that’s now immersed us before it happened, you had to go online and hit the “non-credible” blogs (at the time): Calculated Risk, The Big Picture, Mish’s blog, Eric Janzsen’s iTulip among others. If you were paying attention to Larry Kudlow or David Lereah, who was everywhere, you got royally screwed.

If we need to find out what just happened, the Internet is the hands-down winner. And if you can’t make good decisions based on what you read in the paper or saw on the news, then what the hell is the point?

If we need to know which events may happen next, the mainstream media is usually wrong or very late to the party. At the heart of the matter, the mainstream media is an ancient, inefficient relic of a different age. After all, people used to get information from travellers wandering from village to village. Newspapers, radios and television are massive improvements on that old system but still inefficient due to barriers imposed by the gatekeeper effect. The liberalization of media wrought by the Internet is yet another quantum leap from the 20th century model.

And this makes hacks like the editorial’s author obsolete and rightfully so.

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3 Responses to “Self-Important Journalists”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    When pajamas are outlawed only pajama people will have pajamas. State writers in the former Eastern Bloc were also paid by the word.

  2. Dax Says:

    I do take his point regarding political/economic blogs. I read a lot of them, both Right and Left. It’s incredible the extent that the Left blogs completely ignore any news that paints their side in a bad light (and the same for the Right sites). It’s like they’re existing in parallel universes.

    I think reading news & opinion only from one side is more pointless than not reading any news at all.

  3. Davy Bui Says:

    I should probably do a follow-up post on this but blogs are different in one respect: they aren’t legitimized to the extent the mainstream media is. So if I drop by Sludge or Huffington, I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. After all, no one watching pro wrestling thinks it’s real!

    The mainstream media has an aura of credibility that can be quite subtle yet pervasive. Maybe we know that George Will hangs pretty far to the right but if their front page features an “official” story on housing and they quote the “chief economist” of the National Association of Realtors as saying this or that, but without providing the context that he’s a shameless shill — not all people read newspapers as skeptically as they should.

    This aspect is why Ellul in his Propoganda book stated that those who read newspapers, i.e. the most informed and educated, are one of the population segments most easily propagandized. These days, we also have a mainstream media cowed by its subjects and not willing to ask hard questions until things have gotten way out of hand.

    Someone who watches hours of Fox News everyday but without recognition of their overwhelming bias is going to be severely misinformed in key areas but of course, they will think otherwise. I watch MSNBC but I’m more than aware that every evening on-air personality would love a romantic evening w/ Barack Obama — yes they are all male or lesbian but no matter.

    You would hope people consume news with a skeptical eye but more than likely, what happens is the consumer embeds the bias into her own viewpoint.

    Caveat emptor.

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