If your answer is based on most of what you read and watch, the response will be a negative one. The dumbing-down process has had years to implant itself in the routines and templates of electronic newsgathering. The conventions of coverage are well institutionalized with the patterns of simplification and ideological conformity obvious to anyone with a critical eye.
And yet, at the same time, the mighty mainstream media machine cannot insulate itself from the growing chorus of dissatisfaction that manifests itself in a growing tune-out of traditional TV news and falling newspaper circulations. When their market speaks, commercial media must listen. When 70% of the viewers and of their own employees tell pollsters that they are not satisfied, and when leading insider pundits articulate those same grievances, there is nowhere to hide.
THE JUDITH MILLER FACTOR
Judith Miller 's "retirement " from the New York Times is a sign of how public opinion forced even Establishment organs like the "newspaper of record " to make a break with a favored prize-winning journalist who finally admitted to have erred in her reporting from Iraq. What 's significant is that many of the letters to the editor of the Times don 't just indict her performance but instead turn on the failings of her editors and overlords. They indict the whole institution.
For the most part, except from some utterances by TV network news executives --two of whom are now gone --has been silent on these issues. But even the TV world is reading the tealeaves and having long overdue discussions about its own failings.
I have just returned from the international NewsXChange ( "For broadcasters by Broadcasters ") in Amsterdam attended by 450 newspeople from 40 countries. 70 members of the Eurovision News Exchange and the 29 members of European News Exchange (ENEX), the co-operative of commercial broadcasters were there. In addition, participants included major international broadcast news agencies and networks like Reuters and the AP as well as ITN, BBC, CNN International and Al Jazeera. CBS and ABC had a smaller presence while NBC, Fox, CNN domestic and Bloomberg were M.I.A. Globalvision/Mediachannel.org was one of the only smaller independents present.
I expected lots of self-congratulatory conversation but was amazed to find hard- hitting debates and candid challenges to the way big stories get covered. Sure, there were lots of networking and cocktail parties but most of the focus was serious and substantive.
DEBATING CABLE NEWS
First, there was a debate on 24 hour news channels with their overload breaking news and repetitive and recycled stories. There were dismissive references to reporters who were an "pair of lips " and others who just fed the satellites with updates even when they had done no distinguished reporting. They are referred to as "dish monkeys. "
This was the agenda: "This session will examine: Why such an explosion of all-news channels? Who are the target viewers? How do they distinguish themselves from the competition in terms of their formats, style, and journalism? Will the BBC's new guidelines about accuracy over firstness, delayed showing of troubling images (i.e. Beslan, New Orleans) influence other channels, already criticized by an ITV journalist, calling it a "negation of modern television journalism"? Will the new channels offer different news agendas, pay more attention to the developing world rather than focusing on sensational "American" stories such as the Michael Jackson trial? How do they survive and make a profit? Or only those that have state or governmental subsidies Al-Jazeera, or Deutsche Welle-have secure futures? Finally, we look at the broadband revolution that may mean that, as media critic Jay Rosen points out, means "your website is your cable channel."
This discussion featured outsiders takes on what 's often missing --the lack of contextualization and background needed to really illuminate issues and make for more of an empathetic relationship between viewers and crises around the world.
This led to some sharp discussion of the flaws of hyped-up hasty coverage and the need for more passion like we briefly saw in the Katrina coverage. It led to frustration with sloganizing on what are called the "straps, " the words chosen for the bottom of the screen as in bird flu alarmism like "The Ducks, The Death. " It lead to a debate with a French news executive who stopped covering the riots in the suburbs of Paris because "how many burning cars can you show? " An ITV news executive from England challenged him for elitism and a lack of diversity in the newsroom.
AL JAZEERA 'S NEW CHANNEL
It was also fascinating to hear from Al Jazeera 's Nigel Parson about their plans to launch a new international channel in English next spring to compete with CNN and BBC. (Not surprisingly the hardest and most closed market they have to crack is in the USA.) CBS showed off its new digital on-line approach and there was a promo for International World Television, the new more aggressive news channel in the works that I am supporting. Unfortunately, channel founder Paul Jay could not be present.
There was also a heated debate about how well Islam is covered in the west and the lack of coverage of global warming. Reporting on China was debated as well as the new role played by citizen journalism and new technologies in reporting and disseminating news. Everyone seemed to understand that the news industry is in the middle of intense challenges to its credibility, and on the verge a major change in how news is reported and transmitted,