The New Digital Media Reality: More Outlets with Less Actual Reporting
I'm just the kind of media geek who would eat up Howard Kurtz's new book, Reality Show, a blow-by-blow account of how the old school network TV anchors Brokaw, Jennings and Rather were suddenly and unexpectedly gone -- replaced in a frenzy of activity which saw one anchor blown up in Iraq, another disgraced by a runaway story and a third die of lung cancer.
But all of that behind-the-scenes dirt pales compared to one of Kurtz's most interesting discoveries: How much network newscasts crib from big newspapers such as the New York Times and Wall Street journal without admitting it.
An interesting section of the book involved Kurtz focusing on March 2006 and documenting nearly a dozen instances in which reports featured on the network newscasts followed stories on the same subject printed in a major national newspaper.
That's nothing new; TV outlets have been cribbing from newspapers for decades. But as newspapers shrink their reporting staffs and digital media outlets blossom, we are left with a peculiar circumstance -- a growing media structure increasingly built on a shrinking amount of original reporting.
I tried to explore this idea a bit in a Perspective column Sunday. The good news is that newspapers such as the New York Times, USA today and Washington Post become even more indispensable as sources for much of the original reporting on Iraq, unrest in Myanmar and tensions in Turkey. But fewer perspectives in reporting means less chance to avoid groupthink -- it was, after all, the Washington Bureau for Knight Ridder Newspapers which offered reporting challenging the assumptions in the run up to war in Iraq.
Still, with more of us depending on fewer reporters to deliver facts for our media platforms, there's a serious reckoning coming. "The dirty secret of the information revolution is that much of it is about repackaging other people's stories," said Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "We probably have more reporters crowded around smaller subjects. Which means MSNBC and CNBC and Fox News may all have someone at the White House, but who's covering the Department of Agriculture?"