Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist
Journalism's identity crisis: the emerging hybrid media
What is a traditional news outlet like The Seattle Times supposed to do in an era of structural change, heightened partisanship and poor public report cards? It must figure out how investigative and local reporting will be funded and then find a way to not get lost in the screaming vortex of the 24-hour news cycle.
Times editorial page editor
Read the Pew poll: http://people-press.org/report/543/#prc-jump
The latest Pew Research poll regarding the public's evaluation of news media is as predictable as the partisan e-mails and phone calls I get daily.
I know which Seattle Times columns and editorials will generate a response and I know what the response will be. Rarely am I surprised. Likewise, I know that the public is going to slam the news media when asked. The Pew poll confirms that has been the case for two decades.
The report begins with the public's belief that news media are doing a bad job in the category of accuracy. In 1985, poll respondents said that 55 percent of news stories were accurate. That number has dropped to 29 percent.
A lack of accuracy is not the only area where the public opinion of news media has slid. News media are also viewed as more biased than in 1985 when 45 percent said news organizations were politically biased. Now the percentage is 60.
As I wrote above, none of this surprises me, but it does beg the question: What happened between 1985 and 2009 to effect such a change?
My quick take is the Internet and cable news have become places where people can easily seek out journalism that reinforces their political and world views.
David Domke, chair of the department of communication at the University of Washington, said the Internet and cable news are part of the reason for the public's sagging confidence in news media. He also credits the "massive concentration of media to fewer media outlets."
He's right. America's newspapers and television stations are dominated by a handful of corporate entities driven by Wall Street demands. I don't believe this has led to a less accurate or a partisan news media. If anything, news media have become more bland and ineffective because of three decades of corporate disinvestment.
As for cable news, Domke points out the cable medium changed how viewers experience the news. They could watch news 24 hours a day. It also meant that the news wasn't constrained to the morning and evening newscasts. All that air time had to be filled with a lot of talking.
Couple that air time with Rush Limbaugh going national in the mid-1980s and the genre was born.
"For many Americans there is no bright line between what Limbaugh does and, unfortunately, what The (Seattle) Times does," Domke said.
He added that journalism is going through an identity crisis.
"There's a birthing going on and it is somewhere between a partisan press and an objective press," Domke said.
What is a traditional news outlet like The Times supposed to do in an era of structural change, heightened partisanship and poor public report cards?
I will venture that the new partisan journalism that has found a home on cable news and the Internet are here to stay. The trick for objective media is twofold. Figure out how its hallmarks such as investigative journalism and local reporting will be funded and then find a way to not get lost in the screaming vortex that is the 24-hour news cycle.
Regardless of how the news media look after this period of change, public opinion will never be that of 1985 because the emerging hybrid media will include the sharp edges of partisan media grating against the polished finish of objective media.
Ryan Blethen's column appears Sunday on the editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org