Saturday, February 18, 2006

Columnist Confronts the Reasonable MSM's Mushy Standards

Colbert L. King has a problem. Seems his newspaper can't cover the kinds of stories that certain communities find valuable. As the headline to his column says, "Some Are Less 'Newsworthy' Than Others"

For example:
Marion Fye's name first appeared in the news, and only in this newspaper, last June 10, when The Post reported that her live-in boyfriend, 33-year-old Harold D. Austin, aka "Devine," had been charged with her murder. On Feb. 1 a D.C. Superior Court jury found Austin guilty of killing Fye. Her body was never found.

A note from a reader who is also a federal prosecutor contrasted the handling of Fye's disappearance with the media frenzy that followed last year's disappearance of a "young, pretty, white," straight-A Alabama high school graduate named Natalee Holloway, who was vacationing in Aruba.
But he's not preparing to launch the usual diatribe:
Disparate racial treatment in the coverage? Compared with what? The Post has given extensive coverage to the murder of a 15-year-old youth in Southeast Washington and the arrest of another youth for an unconnected murder; both are grandsons of a prominent former member of the D.C. Council -- all African Americans.
No, Mr. King has a more subtle--and significant--target in mind: T
he real question, which the reader also posed, is how we decide whether one story is more worthy than another. How do we determine the merits of a case? The answer, in my judgment, lies at the heart of newspaper industry's downward spiral in circulation.

The decision to go with one story rather than another turns on what we in this business consider "newsworthy." It's an amorphous term, but editors claim to know it when they see it. Unfortunately, in my view, that decision seems to boil down to what those of us in newsrooms, and not readers, care about.

And there's the problem. What draws the interest of people in the news business (what they like to read and write about) often bears little relationship to what people who live in communities like Marion Fye's care about.

And that's how a single mom in Northeast Washington who disappears from her home, leaving behind all her children and possessions, doesn't make it into the newspaper.
He's discovered the hippopotamus in the middle of the newsroom. MSM professionals don't get their readers. That's why circulation at major media institutions like the L.A. Times continues to hemorrage. Instead of facing this brutal fact, however, most leaders within the MSM would rather disparage their consumers. Or blame the bloggers.

Yes, it may feel great to pontificate against their latest competitors. That won't solve their problem. Asking why bloggers continue to grow while they shrink may.

If they did ask, they might be surprised to learn that bloggers respond to interactions with their peers and readers. My fellow bloggers, let's admit it: we really love it when other bloggers link to us. So if we post something that interests us that also draws attention from other bloggers, won't we be more likely to post something similar in the future? Exactly. We're all part of one large, interactive community, in which we're simultaneously collaborators and competitors, as well as producers and consumers of new media. Now, if I can just stop channeling Thomas Friedman for a second, let me make my point. We respond more quickly to the needs and interests of our readers and peers than MSM currently does. Look at how quickly we revise our work when someone calls us on our mistakes? If we don't, we lose our credibility--and sinorara, SiteMeter statistics! Wouldn't these insights benefit at least one managing editor out there?

Mr. King offers the first example I've seen of someone from MSM getting it. How long will it be before others begin to join him?