We need a better news media

I listened recently to a great talk by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy (recorded in 2005), and he eloquently points out the consequences of news media that miss the really important stories–stories that effect our health and pocketbook. Worth a listen…

Brad DeLong frequently blogs about terrible news coverage, and he’s right. Kevin Kelly quotes an insightful Atlantic article:

A followup on my Better Than Free, which concern things which could not be easily copied. Michael Hirschorn, writing in the Atlantic, muses on whether newspapers have to be boring in order to survive. He compares what newspapers think is important — what they put on the front page — with what readers think is interesting — what articles they forward to friends.

“I reviewed a week’s worth of front pages of The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times in September and compared them with each day’s most–e-mailed list. I had expected the most–e-mailed results to track the lineups of the more baldly audience-focused TV newscasts, which have increasingly made a fetish of “news that matters to you,” and hence are packed with tedious features on your health, your real estate, your job, your children, and so forth.”

In other words, that’s the conventional wisdom about newsy stuff: There’s the boring important things on the front page and the frivolous self-help stuff on the rest. What Hirschorn found in his study was different:

“Instead, the most–e-mailed lists, despite a smattering of parochial concerns, were a rich stew of global affairs, provocative insight, hot-button issues, pop culture, compelling narrative, and enlightened localism. In short, they were interesting. What they were not, generally, was important, at least not in the grand tectonic geopolitical sense.”

This is a different phenomenon than what deLong complains about (just plain bad reporting), but it’s an interesting observation that what we are usually given as news isn’t really that interesting to us, or meet our needs. Do we really need 24/7 on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, the Dobbs idiot, the Glen Beck idiot, etc? How do we make news media, especially TV, relevant?


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