Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Journalism's problem is a lack of public trust

James O'Shea, ex-editor of the Los Angeles Times, believes that future of newspapers depends on public trust. He believes that newspapers will continue to exist, but that the real question is "what kind of journalism will we have in the newspapers that manage to survive the current wave of circulation and advertising declines plaguing the industry."

He brings up a recent interview with Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell who believes that "the newspaper industry truly still doesn't understand that it is in a business with customers and the business must reflect the needs and demands of the customer. And to the extent that we don't do that, we will disappear." O'Shea does not believe in Zell's philosophy because of "how that vision is applied in newsrooms he controls."
"Instead of scanning the events, policies, tragedies and joys of the world and giving readers a balanced. in-depth, report on what is important, significant and interesting, editors now place a premium on stories that will appeal to "frenzied families" or "carefree couples." These are categories of readers that the paper's marketing studies suggest are turned off by reports of war, corruption and complex issues like financial calamity."

O'Shea compares the what the Tribune is doing to "trying to improve education by replacing the teachers and giving the students only the books they want to read." He believes that "if journalists want serious journalism to survive and thrive, journalists, and only journalists, will have to resolve the central problem we face: The public finds little economic value in what we do. Otherwise they would gladly pay for the news rather than rely on our increasingly unreliable partners in advertising to foot the bill."

Ultimately, O'Shea believes that the "main problem journalism now faces is the lack of public trust in journalists." Coupled with giving away content on the Internet, its no wonder that "the public places little value on something that our own industry thought so little of that it gave it away for free."

He also recognizes that readership is not a problem because if "you combine the print and on-line audiences of the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times, they both reach more readers than at any time in their history."

"But the system that financed the news that they provide readers for less than the price of a cup of coffee is crumbling, and there's nothing on the horizon to replace it."

O'Shea feels that for newspapers to thrive and prosper they "have to figure out how to deliver journalism that makes the public believe we once again are a public trust, something of value and something they won't hesitate to pay for. Instead many papers today are trying to give readers entertainment, without the drama and without the laughs."

Source: Nieman Watchdog

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