Much is being made right now of the speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Some bloggers I've seen have picked a chunk that related to them and commented on it.
...when you ask journalists what they think about their readers, the picture grows darker. According to one recent study, the percentage of national journalists who have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American public to make good decisions has declined by more than 20 points since 1999. Perhaps this reflects their personal politics and personal prejudices more than anything else, but it is disturbing.
This is a polite way of saying that reporters and editors think their readers are stupid. In any business, such an attitude toward one’s customers would not be healthy. But in the newspaper business, where we rely on people to come back to us each day, it will be disastrous if not addressed.
As one study said: “Even if the economics of journalism work themselves out, how can journalists work on behalf of a public they are coming to see as less wise and less able?”
I’d put it more dramatically: newspapers whose employees look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.
The reason I picked this particular passage is due to an experience I've had with various news media. Last October, I began a project where I monitored the news for stories on domestic violence, using Google, Yahoo, Topix, and Bloglines. When errors of fact appeared, or a media outlet demonstrated an outstanding grasp of this complex, and sensitive issue, I'd e-mail them, either asking that the error be corrected and supplying the right information, or congratulatiing them on their good reporting, whatever the situation called for.
It was a daunting task, with sometimes several hundred stories appearing in a day, as October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I did persist, however ;>) and by the end of the month I'd probably sent out 300+ e-mails to various papers, radio and TV stations.
Out of all of those, I got maybe 10 responses of any kind. No TV or radio station ever responded. Such responses as I got were all from newspaper reporters at small-town papers, mostly thanking me when I'd sent a "nice note."
Not once did any media outlet make any correction, even when I pointed out such things as faulty statistics or their reporting of nonexistent programs, even though I wasn't commenting on anything that was a matter of opinion, and supplied the correction along with the means of verifying what I was saying.
I didn't expect a response from them, not really. I've figured that they're mostly new at this kind of communications thing, and don't quite know what to do with a reader who approaches them with a specific detail to address. It isn't too suprising, though, to hear that they think their readers/viewers are stupid.
More discussion of the speech