In Delaware, the 49th LARGEST state in the nation, we have a couple of statewide newspapers. Unquestionably, the one with the most pervasive coverage and circulation is The News Journal. And, of course, its free web edition is located at www.delawareonline.com.
Understand that I’m not trying to drum up business for them. I only bring the subject up because so many people love to criticize it. I’ve done it myself… many times. However, much of the general political criticism is partisan-based. And, most of the other criticism is picayune stuff generated by folks who read ONLY one newspaper.
And, if you read the comment forums at Delaware Online, you’ll realize the inescapable conclusion that a large percentage of the posters AND responders have difficulty reading… PERIOD! At best, most of them can’t express coherent thoughts using complete sentences.
Newspapers, by their nature, contain millions of words. Sheer volume, alone, dictates a certain percentage of typos, a few disconnects between an item’s heading and its content, a small percentage of monumental grammatical errors, and the inevitability of an incompetent copy-editor or two.
But, the alarming thing about it is that it’s becoming worse… a lot worse. The News Journal is NO exception; but hordes of newspapers across the nation are just as bad. The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Daily News (NY), New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Daily News are just a few of them.
In fact, literary AND content criticism should not stop with newspapers. All media forms (both news and entertainment), seem to be regressing to the mean of the lowest common denominator. The fact is that the quality of ALL media programming now struggles valiantly but just can’t seem to measure up to mediocrity.
But, no matter which media form is involved, the fault for diminished quality lies with readers, listeners, and viewers, not publishers and broadcasters. Here’s why.
Newspapers and news magazines are not about the business of printing the NEWS; they never have been. TV networks and radio stations are not about the business of producing ENTERTAINMENT; they never have been. ALL of these media sources are about the business of selling advertising; and, they ALWAYS have been.
Advertising pays ALL of the bills. TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine executives produce whichever programming draws the greatest NUMBER of viewers, listeners, and readers. NUMBERS, not programming quality, set the pace for advertising prices.
Newspaper and magazine bean counters determine how many inches of linear/columnar space they need for advertisements. Editors are free to use whatever space remains for “news” or “entertainment” pieces. And, whatever sells… mind-numbing garbage, quality substance, or something in-between, is what we get.
In TV and radio land, bean counters break everything down into minutes instead of space. Each TV broadcast half hour breaks down to 22-minutes of programming and 8-minutes of commercials (six of which are for national commercials with the remaining two dedicated to local ones). Each commercial gets 30-seconds.
On radio, bean counters do things in broadcast hours. A typical broadcast hour will contain about 36-minutes of programming. The remaining 24-minutes will break down to about 5-minutes of news at the top of each hour and 1-minute at the bottom of each hour, with the remaining 18-minutes going to commercials.
For decades, in the case of TV—and to a smaller extent in radio—network executives presented news as a public service. They treated the costs of gathering and delivering it as overhead to be included in advertising prices. But this all changed when the corporate conglomerates took over.
Nowadays, TV news departments—and to a lesser degree in radio—are profit centers. They must survive on their own rating merits. In other words, news is now entertainment that must compete for survival. And, if the lowest common denominator controls the public interests, the relationship between facts and truth becomes estranged if need be.
Conversely, newspapers and magazines are cash strapped with many on the verge of bankruptcy. A major reason has been that young people get their news—if they’re interested in any at all—from the Internet, not print and broadcast media. And, of course, ALL of us know that if it’s on the Internet, it MUST be true!
The country seems to be getting dumber, not smarter. Many pollsters—Zogby, Gallup, Rasmussen, Survey USA, Opinion Dynamics, Public Opinion Strategies, etc—continue providing statistical evidence of it.
According to recent surveys, 20% of us believe that the Sun orbits the Earth. Less than 50% of U. S. adults understand that the Earth revolves around the Sun once each year. TEN percent of Americans (between 18 and 24-years of age) can’t find the United States on a blank world map.
Fifty years ago, American presidents delivered speeches to the nation at a 12th grade literacy level. Today, the level has dropped to a 7th grade level. Only 1 in 4 (25%) of Americans know two or more of the freedoms expressed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. SEVENTY percent of Americans cannot identify the source of “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.”
In 1976, less than 16% of Americans admitted to believing in ghosts. Today, that percentage is close to 40%. And, while I in no way include developing nuclear weapons as a moral criticism of this country, about 85% of Americans have no clue that we are the only country to use nuclear weapons in a war.
Is it any wonder that our government caters to the ravings of mental dwarfism by perpetuating the myth that we can BORROW ourselves out of debt? Is it any wonder that loud-mouthed, self-important, out-of-touch xenophobic windbags now seem to monopolize our media airways?
There’s not a year that’s gone by over the past 40 that we haven’t declared “war” on some abstract concept or inanimate object. Poverty, drugs, and terror have been amongst the most stupid of the rallying calls.
And terror, so far, has been the most devastating. Over the past 9-years, we’ve spent $trillions—with no sure end in sight—on two wars in retaliation for 9/11. Both have brought out the worst in more of us than all of the others have combined.
Thousands of our bravest and brightest young people have died while thousands more have spilled countless gallons of blood, with every drop of it on some of the most God-forsaken turf on this Earth. But, terrorism still plagues the world. And, it will continue to do so because it’s merely a tactic.
But, this has not stopped many big-mouthed political pundits and partisan politicians from fighting it with the weapons of pure rhetoric and mindless legislation, along with unparalleled stupidity and all the while tucked snuggly here at home on the safe battlefield of cable “news.”
We’re the victims of our own standards of quality. May God continue to bless the United States of America! But, if the ratings continue to tank, unpleasant changes are inevitable. Have a great week.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. You may comment on his column by clicking here.