The media is now worse than it was then………
Today’s mass media is tomorrow’s fossil fuel.
Michael Crichton is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.
I am the author of a novel about dinosaurs, a novel about US-Japanese trade relations, and a forthcoming novel about sexual harassment – what some people have called my dinosaur trilogy. But I want to focus on another dinosaur, one that may be on the road to extinction. I am referring to the American media. And I use the term extinction literally. To my mind, it is likely that what we now understand as the mass media will be gone within ten years. Vanished, without a trace.
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There has been evidence of impending extinction for a long time. We all know statistics about the decline in newspaper readers and network television viewers. The polls show increasingly negative public attitudes toward the press – and with good reason. A generation ago, Paddy Chayevsky’s Network looked like an outrageous farce. Today, when Geraldo Rivera bares his buttocks, when the New York Times misquotes Barbie (the doll), and NBC fakes news footage of exploding trucks, Network looks like a documentary.
According to recent polls, large segments of the American population think the media is attentive to trivia, and indifferent to what really matters. They also believe that the media does not report the country’s problems, but instead is a part of them. Increasingly, people perceive no difference between the narcissistic self-serving reporters asking questions, and the narcissistic self-serving politicians who evade them.
And I am troubled by the media’s response to these criticisms. We hear the old professional line: “Sure, we’ve got some problems, we could do our job better.” Or the time-honored: “We’ve always been disliked because we’re the bearer of bad news; it comes with the territory; I’ll start to worry when the press is liked.” Or after a major disaster like the NBC news/GM truck fiasco, we hear “this is a time for reflection.”
These responses suggest to me that the media just doesn’t get it – doesn’t understand why consumers are unhappy with their wares. It reminds me of the story of the man who decided to kill his wife by having a lot of sex with her. Pretty soon this beaming, robust woman shows up, followed by a wizened little man with a cane. He whispers to a friend, “She doesn’t know it yet, but she has only two weeks to live.”
It is this perception that the media, and our current concept of news, is outmoded, that I would like to address.
So for a moment, let’s set aside the usual bromides about the press. Let’s take it as given that the bearer of bad news is often executed; that all human beings have an appetite for gossip and scandal; that media must attract an audience; that bias is in the eye of the reader as much as in the pen or sound-bite of the reporter.
And let’s talk instead about quality.
The media are an industry, and their product is information. And along with many other American industries, the American media produce a product of very poor quality. Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it’s sold without warranty. It’s flashy but it’s basically junk. So people have begun to stop buying it.
Poor product quality results, in part, from the American educational system, which graduates workers too poorly educated to generate high- quality information. In part, it is a problem of nearsighted management that encourages profits at the expense of quality. In part, it is a failure to respond to changing technology – particularly the computer-mediated technology known collectively as the Net. And in large part, it is a failure to recognize the changing needs of the audience.