Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Death of Television News in America


Did you know that in 1980 55 million Americans watched the network news every night?  In other words 24% of the USA population watched the news.  If 24% of the USA population watched the network and cable news on TV today 75.6 million people would be watching.
So why are just 25 million Americans watching the network and cable news today?  That means less than 8% of our population gets their news from the blob tube today.  What about the other 92% of the population?
Okay, this story could be a psychological thriller if you care about such things since we are talking about something that can have a major influence on your mind.  If you are a trusted psychologist is this drastic loss of news watchers a bad or good thing?
As an investigative reporter I want to find the truth behind the numbers.  So I first check on things like do people trust the news media.  Here is the latest Gallup poll.
Honesty/Ethics in Professions
So 24%  of the people seem to trust journalists.  That means 76% of the people don't trust journalists.  At least they are more trusted than politicians, lawyers, stockbrokers, Congress members and car salesmen.  It also means while just 8% watch the TV news 24% don't trust them.
Why would people want to watch news they don't trust?  No wonder the numbers keep dropping.  Is it good or bad that people don't trust the media?  If they don't trust the TV media who do they trust for news?
Sadly print media and radio are both fading into extinction as news sources while the digital revolution has brought us multiple sources for news bytes but little in the way of in-depth reporting.
I had a theory it all started back in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter got attacked by the killer rabbit.  Such stories could have accelerated the loss of trust in the media.
In spite of an expanding variety of ways to get news, a sizable minority of young people continues to go newsless on a typical day. Fully 29 % of those younger than 25 say they got no news yesterday either from digital news platforms, including cell phones and social networks, or traditional news platforms. That is little changed from 33% in 2010.
In all cases the more choices we have for news the fewer people are using them.  Thus the access is there, so is the availability, but the content and delivery seem to suck.
Once upon a time there was some semblance of journalism integrity when it came to news.  Standards, ethics and fact checking were all practiced before most stories got into the news.  With the Internet, there are no longer requirements for standards on content, ethics in the writing style, objectivity in reporting or fact checking in the content.
Once upon a time no respectable reporter would quote an anonymous source but today's Internet is filled with unsubstantiated facts and unknown sources of information.   Worse, there is no one in a position to bring such discipline and ethics to the Internet since it has no loyalty to sovereign geographic boundaries.
Who would you sue and under what court of law if a story full of lies is on the Internet?  It can be almost impossible to track the source of the story when Internet servers all around the world are used to transmit information.
So we are helpless to enforce any journalistic standards.  Maybe it is a good thing fewer and fewer people are watching the news or are accepting the digital universe as the source for news.
Yet I cannot help thinking that a society that no longer thinks and is no longer informed of the situation in the world may very well be so caught up in self-serving interests that the good of all the people is a distant memory.
Maybe we need more digital applications teaching us how to give selflessly rather than simply take.  Self-gratification is not a Cardinal virtue in spite of what you may have read in the digital universe.

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