Tuesday March 6, 2007
Carl Hiaasen says and Bob Norman agrees. That the Anna Nicole Smith incident is revealing some sort of new low in our culture. “But this is the new New Journalism, which is steered by a core belief that people would rather be smothered by seedy gossip about dead ex-Playmate junkies than be bothered with the details of North Korea’s nuclear program.”
I call bullshit. That people are more interested in trivial gossip than weighty news is as old as humanity. I see no evidence that the internet is intensifying this whatsoever — 30 million people mentioned Anna Nicole Smith. Big deal — most of those hits were probably from blogs mentioning her in passing (like I just did). She’s an interesting celebrity, and she just died — what does Hiaasen expect?
This is just a newspaper guy frustrated by the fact that his industry is dying and blaming it on readers’ alleged preferences. The truth is that readers skim the Smith article and then they skim the North Korea article, and they know the difference. The real problem is the newspapers. I picked one up yesterday (the NYTimes, actually), and boy was it a disaster. The content is great, but the delivery system stinks. A big heavy clump of wood pulp gets dropped on your lawn every morning, and you’re expected to flip through hundreds of huge flimsy pages, skimming articles to try to find what’s of interest to you. Stories jump around from page to page, making you unfold, flip, refold, and generally wrestle with the stupid thing.
And newspapers’ web sites are no better — the Herald’s front page gives you a hint of what’s behind the link for exactly two stories. For anything else you have to navigate to sub-pages or guess from short cryptic headlines. Navigable archive pages are non-existent, searching is rudimentary, and all articles disappear behind a paywall after a few months. The Herald has a mess of blogs that don’t integrate with its regular site, and many are on Blogspot. I’ve repetedly implored the Herald to look for new ways to use the internet, and it’s just not happening. The NY Times has a new state-of-th-art website, but it’s chosen to put its columnists behind a paywall, so I’m not sure how much of a leader they’ll be.
Look, there’ll always be a demand for serious news, and there’ll always be news organizations to meet the demand. The only question is whether today’s newspapers are smart enough to make the changes to become those organizations. But their blaming their audience for their troubles suggests they are not.
Update: In the comments, Dan Sweeney just proved that Hiaasen isn’t just wrong about his conclusion, he’s wrong about his facts, too. Herewith, a series of graphs demonstrating that Anna Nicole Smith wasn’t the biggest news story the week she died by a long shot.comments powered by Disqus