Ran across this today in an email chain andI think this guy found the Rosetta Stone of newspaper catastrophe…
He makes a great argument: Newspapers hate their audiences. I know I did. I didn’t want to be told by some housewife in slippers who couldn’t form a coherent sentence that she knew better than me. It’s the arrogance that comes with having your name seen by thousands of people each day and believing that you are in some way changing the world (or the city or town or whatever). Unless it’s a pat on the back, shut the hell up. I’m not telling you how to feed your 35 housecats, so don’t tell me how to interpret the city budget.
Of course, that’s wrong, but it’s a hard mentality to change. When you stand in line at Wal-Mart and you see the guy with three teeth talking about what he’d do if he ran the “gumament” or if there wasn’t this damned 5-day waiting period on handguns… Yeah, you shudder and think everyone’s like that. This is my audience. The folks with a collective IQ of a fruit salad.
Here’s the problem: our audience knows more than we do, but we just don’t see it that way when we’re in a newspaper newsroom. We forget as reporters that we don’t know everything. That’s why we REPORT the news, not make the stuff up. We’re required to call the mayor because he knows more about the budget than we do. We need to meet the person who just turned 100 that we’re profiling because we don’t know what it’s like to have lived through both World Wars. We’re not there when a fire starts, so we need to talk to the fire chief and the people who just lost all their stuff in the blaze. Parents and teachers know what’s going on at a school a lot more than we do. If instead of coming at this from the mentality that we’re giving a papal blessing to the fawning masses, we viewed ourselves as conduits for information, maybe every five days some newspaper wouldn’t be executing staff in the parking lot Russian Revolution style just to keep a profit margin.
What will happen to the media in this country, I believe, will depend greatly upon whether papers begin to show a little love. For my part, I’m training the next generation to get used to feedback they don’t want to hear.
It’s called final grades.
PS – Watch about a third of the way in for the NYT’s view on what email will do to us, circa 1995. If you love looking at photo albums of people who were completely into the worst fashion of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, you’ll find particular joy in that segment