Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Newspapers Are Failing

Yesterday's Houston Chronicle provided the perfect example of why newspapers are failing in the age of the Internet. On the first page of the City & State section is an article by Rick Casey titled High Court kills wise Texas law. As you might suspect from the title, the article is about the Supreme Court's recent ruling overturning parts of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The article starts by excerpting a speech that Gov. Rick Perry gave at a Tea Party rally on Thursday. After this goes on for several paragraphs, Casey admits that Perry never actually said this things and Casey just made them up. He then slams Perry for not accepting federal money for unemployment or education. At this point I had to double check what section of the paper I was reading because I thought maybe I'd picked up the Op/Ed section by mistake but no, it was still the City & State section.

Here's the thing. Fake quotes have no business in a news story unless it's a news story about a reporter being fired for making up fake quotes. The same goes for a reporter's personal opinions of a politician's political positions, especially when those positions have nothing to do with the story. Yet Mr. Casey thought these were appropriate things to include in his article. Clearly his editor(s) also thought it was appropriate and presumably so did the Chronicle's publisher.

When I want the news, I want the news and not some reporter's personal opinions. If I wanted Rick Casey's opinions on things I'd be looking in the Op/Ed section to see if he has a column there, not in the City & State section. I'm sure as hell not going to pay for some reporter's personal opinions dressed up as the news, particularly when I disagree with those opinions. If I want to read some liberal's opinions I can just got to the Huffington Post or Daily Kos or even Democratic Underground and read liberal opinions to my heart's content for free. If I'm reading the newspaper I want news and not opinion.

Some time back I went to the grocery store and there was a Houston Chronicle salesman there giving copies of the paper away for free hoping to get people to subscribe. I told him I wasn't interested in paying for such a biased news source. Instead of trying to defend the paper he merely asked where I got my news if not from the Chronicle. When I told him I got my news from the internet he tried to argue that the Chronicle was the only place I could get local news. The thing is even that wasn't true. When someone literally drove their car through one of my favorite restaurants, the Chronicle didn't carry the story. To find out what had happened I had to go to the internet where I found the story on a local TV station's news page. On the internet I was also able to find the personal account of someone who had been in the restaurant at the time of the incident along with pictures of the aftermath that they had taken with their cell phone. Far better information than the Chronicle's non-existent coverage.

Note for newspaper reporters, editors, and publishers. In case you haven't been paying attention to recent elections, the country is fairly evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. When you bias your news coverage towards one side you alienate the other. There was a time when you could get away with this bias because people simply didn't have any other real options for where to get their news. In the Information Age this is no longer true. If I don't like your news coverage I can log on to the internet and get my news from the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times or the Miami Herald or the Cleveland Plain Dealer or the Times of London or the Guardian or any of countless other newspapers that have gone online as well as ABC, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, the BBC, etc. Welcome to the age of competition. If you want my business you're going to have to give me what I want and what I want is news without the bias.