If there was a button that would make corporate news completely disappear, I'd press it and never stop pressing

"Yesterday News" by Zarko Drincic, used under a Creative Commons license

Glenn Greenwald lists Politico‘s “Top 10 political scoops of 2008“:

(1) Katie Couric’s interview of Sarah Palin (CBS)

(2) McCain can’t say how many homes he owns (Politico)

(3) Obama’s “bitter” comment (Huffington Post)

(4) Sarah Palin’s shopping spree (Politico)

(5) Turmoil in the Clinton camp (Washington Post and Atlantic — “The behind-the-scenes tension was captured by the reporters in one memorable exchange: ‘[Expletive] you!’ Ickes shouted. ‘[Expletive] you!’ Penn replied. ‘[Expletive] you!’ Ickes shouted again.”)

(6) Jeremiah Wright tapes (ABC News)

(7) The Pentagon’s military analyst program (NY Times)

(8) Bickering in the McCain camp (NY Times Magazine)

(9) John Edwards’ affair (National Enquirer)

(10) Powell endorses Obama (Meet the Press)

Number seven is certainly an important story (and one that got virtually no coverage on TV), but the rest is… Well, as Glenn says,

In fairness to Calderone and his comrades in the political press, our media currently covers a country that has very few substantial problems and an administration that is renowned around the world for being competent, honest, conventional and quite uncontroversial. In general, countries which enjoy great tranquility, prosperity, and stability — such as the U.S. today — can afford the luxury of fixating on the types of fun and trivial stories which comprise the list of top “scoops” heralded by Politico.

It’s not that all of these stories were meaningless and not worth reporting. Palin’s difficultly answering simple questions — and what it implied about her readiness to step into the Presidency — was relevant knowledge for voters to have, for instance. And a lot of these stories are irresistibly fun. But it shouldn’t be on anyone’s “top ten scoops” list. It wasn’t a “scoop” that they deserve credit and praise for — Katie Couric didn’t work to ferret that story out. Someone just turned a camera on.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of in-depth reporting about the election that didn’t happen — or that happened, but didn’t get picked up on in any consistent fashion. After all the debating talks about Afghanistan, how many Americans could find it on a map? How many Americans, after all this time, could even guess at if Iran’s government is Sunni or Shiite? How many know, even in broad outlines, the differences between McCain’s and Obama’s proposed health care plans are? There may also have been some torture going on somewhere, and maybe some war crimes covered up, and possibly a tiny twinge in our economic health, but you’d never know it from Politico’s top ten.

But of course, reporting like that won’t sell papers, or pull in eyeballs, the way simple and fun narratives will. I’m not sure that good reporting is possible, except in erratic sparks, in a profit-driven news model.

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2 Responses to If there was a button that would make corporate news completely disappear, I'd press it and never stop pressing

  1. 1
    Stentor says:

    But if the problem is that “it doesn’t pull in eyeballs,” why think non-profit media are going to do any better? Pulling in eyeballs isn’t just some seedy thing for-profit media has to do to make a buck — it’s the whole raison d’etre of media. Presumably the reason we’re concerned about the quality of reporting in the for-profit media is that we want Juan Q. Public to read these important stories. A non-profit group may do great investigative reporting on torture, but if hardly anyone reads it, all it does is gratify the consciences of the few enlightened members of its audience. In that case, the problem is the public who won’t give their eyeballs to serious stories, not the media who don’t offer them what they don’t want.

    I think an eyeballs-based critique of for-profit media would have to take a more subtle form. You could say the for-profit media is concerned with getting eyeballs *cheaply* — Couric’s interview with Palin was certainly less expensive to produce than sending a team of reporters to Afghanistan, even if both would get the same amount of eyeballs. Or you could say that for-profit media is *wrong* about what would in fact bring in eyeballs. Or perhaps you could advocate a sort of “brussels sprouts before desert” theory of media — draw them in with Couric-Palin and hope they’ll stay long enough to hear your explanation of health care policy — which for-profit media wouldn’t find as profitable as serving three courses of ice cream for dinner.

    (Also, I think we need to differentiate “top scoops” from “top stories.” A scoop is a story that one media outlet gets before anyone else — so the Couric-Palin interview was a scoop in that it was on CBS before anywhere else. The “tiny twinge in our economic health” was the Associated Press’s #2 story of the year, but it’s not a scoop because every media outlet in the world covered it. So perhaps another eyeball-based critique could be to say that for-profit media is too obsessed with “scoops” that will draw readers from the competition rather than spending time doing a solid job on the stories everyone has.)

  2. 2
    Kevin Moore says:

    You might think the corporate media might have some personal stake in keeping mum the abuses of power by the state. Hmmmm. What could it be?

    Speaking of all this, just this morning I got around to reading Mark Danner’s excellent critique of the news media’s treatment of “scandal” – http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22117

    It has bearing. Yes it does.