Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sad news for a news junkie!

ABC News recently announced that all of its bureau offices in the US would eventually be closed with the exception of the Washington, D.C., bureau.  As noted in an article in the Los Angeles Times, the number of correspondents will be halved and the network will instead rely on "digital journalists."  This saddens me.  I love technology and would be unhappy without my computer, cell phone, digital camera, GPS, and computerized sewing machine!  But I am disturbed at the continuing changes in news reporting both in print and on the air.

How many magazines have closed up shop?  How many smalltown newspapers are no longer published?  How many radio stations are now silent?  I know enough economics to understand the "bottom line" and that profits are necessary.  Except for NPR and PBS, subscription and advertising funds are fundamental components of the news business.  When viewers and readers disappear, so does advertising revenue.  Cutbacks are inevitable often followed by going-out-of-business sales.

Those of us who still get our news in a non-digital way, i.e., holding a newspaper in ink-smudged hands, are left with fewer and fewer sources for news.  This is not good for a free democratic society.  It limits the amount of coverage a story receives and certainly has an impact on the "voice" of the coverage.  We currently subscribe to two newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the Press-Enterprise.  More often than not, the coverage of the identical news event has a different tone in each paper even if the base source is The Associated Press.  A critical reader gets a more complete picture by reading both papers.

Now we'll be getting our news from "digital journalists."  They won't go to an office and brainstorm with other reporters, editors, and columnists in the newsroom.  They won't have the benefit of staffers - the researchers, copy editors, and assistants who form the backbone of a news organization.  They'll be freelance writers unable to collaborate with other reporters on investigative reports closely monitored by editors who insist on verified sources and corrected errors.  Are we in danger of seeing these virtual reporters clammering for ratings and modifying stories to make their pieces more marketable?  Are we likely to see reporters join the rash of book authors whose tales are questionable, untrue, or plagiarized?  (See this article on Charles Pellegrino's "The Last Train From Hiroshima" the latest book to be challenged for its veracity.)

The news tonight is not good for news junkies out there.  Stay tuned.  It might get worse.

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