Poll April 2009

Media Insiders Say Internet Hurts Journalism

As more readers consume news on the Net, media elites worry their industry is changing for the worse. Meantime, press coverage of President Obama, they say, is “about right.”
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In a poll of prominent members of the national news media, nearly two-thirds say the Internet is hurting journalism more than it is helping. The poll, conducted by The Atlantic and National Journal, asked 43 media insiders whether, on balance, journalism has been helped more or hurt more by the rise of news consumption online. Sixty-five percent said journalism has been hurt more, while 34 percent said it has been helped more.

The media insiders were also asked about coverage of President Obama. Of 45 respondents, 71 percent say it has been “about right,” 22 percent say it’s been “too easy” and 7 percent say it has been “too tough.”

Those who say that news consumption on the Internet is, on balance, hurting journalism note the way the online experience is changing reader habits.The “hurt more” group also says that while the Internet offers benefits, the cost to traditional media and news-gathering is too high.

QUESTIONS

On balance, has journalism been helped more or hurt more by the rise of news consumption on the Internet?
43 respondents

•Helped more 35 % (15)
•Hurt more 65 % (28)

What do you think of the coverage of Barack Obama so far this year?
45 respondents

•Too tough 7 % (3)
•Too easy 22 % (10)
•About right 71 % (32)

“The Internet has some plusses: It has widened the circle of those participating in the national debate. But it has mortally wounded the financial structure of the news business so that the cost of doing challenging, independent reporting has become all but prohibitive all over the world. It has blurred the line between opinion and fact and created a dynamic in which extreme thought flourishes while balanced judgment is imperiled.”

“A year ago, I would have given a different answer. The increases in audience reach and communication with the audience are incredibly gratifying. But the cost to the business model (R.I.P. Seattle P-I) and the inability of the business model to monetize the Internet means that there is a disturbing net cost to newsgathering. If you're not covering your state delegation in D.C., or the state legislature back home, or the city council, bad things are going to happen, undiscovered.”

“News consumption depends on news production, and I don't see anything on the Internet that produces news—that is, detailed responsible empirical journalism—the way newspapers do (or did). It is typical of Americans to get more excited about consumption than about production.”

“The Internet trains readers to consume news in ever-smaller bites. This is a disaster for newspapers and magazines.”

Those who say that news consumption on the Internet is helping journalism point to the range of information available online and to the way the Web has opened the practice of journalism to more people.

“Sure there's sludge, and I can feel overwhelmed by quantity--but the range and quality of what’s at my fingertips every morning is astonishing.”

“You abandon the conceit that ‘newspapers’ equals ‘news,’ you realize that people have far more information available to them about current events than ever before, and that’s a great thing for both journalism (the gathering of news) and the public.”

“It’s been bad in some ways for the media industry—especially newspapers, at this point—but over the long haul, I think the shift to the Web has helped the practice of journalism. It’s subjected journalists to more real-time scrutiny and opened the profession to talented people not affiliated with major media organizations.”

“More sources more often = good for the First Amendment. The creative aspects of creative destruction almost always represent progress. Nonetheless I worry about the death of expensive reporting and the professional standards that grew up by historical accident in the postwar period of licensed airwaves and quasi-monopolistic newspapers.”

As for coverage of President Obama, most members of the national media surveyed believe their peers have got it just about right.

The honeymoon period was more intense than usual (due to the historic character of Obama's win) but also shorter (due to unusually determined and early GOP opposition).”

“Some has been pointlessly skeptical—e.g., raising the question, ‘Is the president overexposed?’ But most has been correct, and some has been making up for skepticism that should have been applied during the campaign.”

But even the “about right” crowd has concerns.

“I guess the coverage has been about right, in the sense that it has been about as it always is: too superficial, too consumed with transitory back-and-forth, not searching enough, and often faintly hysterical in tone. It could certainly be better.”

“So far, there seems to be a balance between sympathy/admiration for Obama the man and the political leader, on the one hand, and the D.C. political community’s near-irresistible pull toward micro-coverage (scandal, poll readings, up-and-down) on the other. In the long run, I think and fear that the latter tendency will prevail, as it generally does. The magnitude of the issues being faced could, however, direct more attention toward big questions.”

Those who say coverage of Obama has been “too easy” believe the press is not doing its job.

“Not just too easy, but far too easy. Embarrassingly easy. Fawning. The worst ever in my lifetime.”

“I think we’re seeing the same phenomenon in media coverage we saw in coverage of Bush after 9/11—a dearth of clear-headed reporting that helps readers understand the potential near-term and long-term consequences of policy decisions being taken today. I can’t help but think that several years from now people will be wondering why reporters weren’t really pressing the administration much harder about policies that will expand the national debt and deficit to unprecedented levels. The consequences have economic, security, and social implications, which have only been superficially explored in coverage I’ve seen.”

And the three respondents who say “too tough” blame the media for being reflexively antagonistic.

“There is a bit of overcompensation from the positive campaign coverage, but even more there is the natural tendency of political reporting to overvalue (by an amount made greater with the influence of bloggers) the impact of any development, especially a negative development.”

“The coverage is too tough in a shallow way—it is relentlessly negative but also relentlessly petty, rather than deeply probing. It lacks a sense of history and context, and an appreciation for the complications of taking over the reins of government.”

Respondents to the Atlantic/National Journal Media Insider’s Poll: Peter Beinart, Gloria Borger, David Brooks, Carl Cannon, Tucker Carlson, Jonathan Chait, Roger Cohen, Steve Coll, Sam Donaldson, Bob Edwards, James Fallows, Howard Fineman, Frank Foer, Ron Fournier, Jeffrey Goldberg, Jeff Greenfield, Glenn Greenwald, David Gregory, Mark Halperin, Christopher Hitchens, Al Hunt, Mort Kondracke, Jim Lehrer, Ruth Marcus, Joshua Micah Marshall, Chris Matthews, Jane Mayer, Doyle McManus, John Micklethwait, Dana Milbank, Markos Moulitsas, Katherine McIntire Peters, Todd Purdum, Cokie Roberts, Eugene Robinson, Tom Shoop, Roger Simon, Scott Simon, Ray Suarez, Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer, Leon Wieseltier, Juan Williams, Judy Woodruff, Fareed Zakaria.

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Cyra Master

Cyra Master is a W.E.B. Du Bois fellow at the Atlantic. Previously, she was an editor at the nonprofit Center for Law and Social Policy and was a reporter for the New Hampshire Eagle Tribune. She is a graduate of Emerson College.
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