What to do? The ideal solution is to hire more staff. But we know that's not going to happen. The industry is downsizing faster than a Biggest Loser contestant as migrating audiences and advertisers cut its formerly generously proportioned profit margins to skeleton thin.
Meanwhile, the volume of information coming at us continues to increase. Fewer reporters have to fill more and more space in new mediums where there is no limit on capacity. 'News' (for want of a better word) doesn't so much break anymore as flow. It's like a fire hydrant that you can't turn off. Social media only intensifies it.
So we have a situation where the capacity for 'news' is growing exponentially as the resources to create 'news' shrink at similar rates. What do you think happens?
First, opinion replaces analysis. Second, PR fodder, bogus surveys, shared content and minimalist wire content replace branded news. Third, the voices of journalists are replaced by public actors and partisans presenting opinion as fact. Finally, the commercial and ideological interests of the media outlet are represented as news.
Where media outlets once had the luxury of employing many dedicated specialist reporters to public interest areas such as health, education, finance, the environment and consumer affairs, the tendency now is to employ generalists and "all-rounders" who are employed as fire engine chasers.
Where once, journalists could justify leaving the office for hours at a time to research a story, build contacts and pursue non-traditional sources, most are now stuck in the office on the telephone, or more likely the computer, cutting and pasting from emailed press releases, PDFs and RSS feeds. The primary aim is to feed the beast, not guard the public interest.
A consequence of downsizing is the breadth of issues has narrowed. This is why you are seeing the same topics cropping up over and over. And those topics that ARE 'covered' - the macro economy, climate change, the migration of peoples - are done so in a way that presents them as mere fodder for the predictable opinionating of the same few partisans regurgitating the same tired talking points.
I don't think I am alone in sensing a public weariness with this 24/7 circus and wonder whether the simple answer is for editors (traditionally the people who provided quality control in journalism) to exercise the "well-blow-me-down" principle in judging what goes to print or to air.
Ask yourself how often these days you are listening to the radio or television news or reading the paper and are confronted with a predictable and self-serving statement from someone with an axe to grind - usually a politician or a noisy lobbyist. In the olden days, this was known as the "well, he would say that" test. In this category goes:
- Hockey says Labor playing games with economy - ABC
- Business Leaders Urge Productivity Reform - AFR
- Pokie Laws Will Ruin Us, says Club - St George Leader
News is what's new. It's what's unusual. It's something that sparks conversation or surprise. It's man bites dog. So if times are really tough in the media business, this is where I would start cutting. Enough of the dog bites man news. What do you think?