The Media in Trouble
I once complained to an important news executive that he ignored certain kinds of stories. He said that he would like to do them but that his staff wouldn't let him. He admitted his staff had been assembled from one side--guess which?--of the political spectrum. This conversation hardened my conviction that the biggest flaw in mainstream journalism today is the lack of diversity. Much bean-counting goes on in regard to gender and race, but the new hires tend to come from the same economic bracket and the same pool of elite universities, and they tend to have the same take on politics and culture. Much of what they turn out is very good. But when they omit or mess up stories, run badly skewed polls, or publish front-page editorials posing as news stories, nobody seems to notice because groupthink is so strong.
Time is running out on the newsroom monoculture. The public has many options now--as well as plenty of media watchdogs, both professional and amateur. So the press takes its lumps and loses readers. In March, a report on the state of the media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism said that in the past 17 years, Americans have "come to see the press as less professional, less moral, more inaccurate, and less caring about the interests of the country." According to the report, fewer than half of Americans think of the press as highly professional (49 percent, down from 72 percent 17 years ago). Another finding was that coverage of George Bush during the presidential campaign was three times as negative as coverage of John Kerry (36 percent to 12 percent). If the press is that much out of sync with the country, its future looks very uncertain. Something has to change.