As a quick follow-up to this posting, a colleague sent along a review of a new book called Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, which rightly points out that the “death of journalism” isn’t a murder, it’s a murder-suicide. Yes, readers are abandoning print newspapers and magazines, preferring to get their information online (with an assumption that such things are free). At the same time, this abandonment is being driven by a decline in quality of the old media, as the owners seek to cut costs and increase profits. From the review:

“The most basic function of journalism, in Davies’s view, is to check facts. Journalists don’t just pass on what they’re told without making an effort to check it first. At least, in theory they don’t. In practice, contemporary journalism has been corrupted by an endemic failure to verify facts and stories in a manner so fundamental that it almost defies belief. The consequences of that are pervasive and systemic…Journalists report much less than they used to, and much less than they should, as the papers have switched over to a reliance on columnists and opinion…Stories need to be cheap, meaning ‘quick to cover’, ‘safe to publish’; they need to ‘select safe facts’ preferably from official sources; they need to ‘avoid the electric fence’, sources of guaranteed trouble such as the libel laws and the Israel lobby; to be based on ‘safe ideas’ and contradict no loved prevailing wisdoms; to avoid complicated or context-rich problems; and always to ‘give both sides of the story’ (‘balance means never having to say you’re sorry – because you haven’t said anything’). And conversely, there are active pressures to pursue stories that tell people what they want to hear, to give them lots of celebrity and TV-based coverage, and to subscribe to every moral panic.”

I do strongly believe that people are still willing to pay for quality, but as this review points out, that’s not what’s being offered by most of our media outlets. The book looks interesting, definitely worth a read.