If newspapers and magazines are to be believed, newspapers and magazines are alternatively on the edge of collapse and rife with corruption.
Last night, I landed on Mediagazer for an update on news about news. It wasn’t pretty. “Newsweek’s ‘Muslim Rage’ cover coincides with critique of Tina Brown,” “Exclusive: News of the World ‘ordered burglary’,” “The Times Needs a Policy on Quotation Approval, and Soon,” “Irish Daily Star Editor Michael O’Kane suspended over Kate Middleton photos”—all on one page. An incredible orgy of negativity, the likes of which are more common on celebrity news or tabloid web sites.
The division of media along political and class lines is, by now, old news! That kind of negativity can only provoke a weary exasperation from rational commentators. But today, we are facing a very new and peculiar phenomenon in news media: a mean-spirited, even spiteful treatment of friendly competition. The mistakes of peers turn into fodder for gleeful analysis ad nauseam. Evidently, the reading public requires or demands a thorough explication of every media misstep. In reality, the negativity of news on news coverage follows from a transparent variety of Schadenfreude. (“D’ja ever clap when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses?” Avenue Q is really quite good on Schadenfreude’s definition, unlike Alanis Morissette on irony.)
Since the beginning of time, or more accurately, the advent of digital media platforms, news media has been spelling out the near-future demise of news media. It seems to me, however, that obsessive and oversaturated reportage on ethical breaches and poor journalism is either a relatively recent phenomenon or reaching unprecedented levels. Perhaps, a focus on journalistic failure is the natural accompaniment to a general interest in the failure of journalism as a form. The two types of negative news on news both derive from a claim that conventional journalism is endangered, if not on the verge of extinction. The rules of the game, and, in fact, the language of the game, have changed so dramatically that the term journalism seems effectively meaningless, at least without laborious clarification and qualification.,
Regardless of cause, the self-destructive rhetoric of the news media must come to end. Unfortunately, the media is the dominant framing device by which public opinion about the media becomes organized. Unless the doomsaying stops, media risks a catastrophic loss of confidence in its basic functions.
I am not suggesting that the media industry should ignore serious ethical or structural problems in its constituents. Rather, I am advocating for optimism. Without a positive outlook and an emphasis on what media does right, instead of what media does wrong, the media giants of today will quickly recede into Goliaths of yesterday.