July 25, 2006

Newspapers May Take The "Big Tobacco" Approach

Hook 'em when they're young - before they figure out how the sausage is made.

In my moderately informed yet humble opinion, I don't really think newspapers need to dumb down content any further. One of the things I learned in early newswriting classes was to "write so that even a sixth-grader can understand the story." If this meme has held true, then papers are already doing this. That is precisely the problem with papers - most are written in a patronizing, pseudo-juvenile manner that emphasizes style over substance.

Why papers don't go for a more comprehensive and intellectually satisfying news model isn't totally beyond me - there is a bottom line (declining rapidly or not), and it ultimately takes precedent . OK - theoretically, it takes precedent. Consequently, newspaper management will bet on hooking a wider, less educated readership than on keeping the better-educated information consumers demographic. This is certainly understandable in theory, but the news product suffers in quality as a result. Again, it matters not as long as bills are being paid (making the recent editorial decisions of many major papers in light of the current industry-wide decline of newspaper circulation and advertising dollars even more preplexing.)

And what do the young readers want? Doubly-dumbed-down news, apparently:

Jim Abbott, vice president of the foundation, said newspapers need to go beyond specific pages or sections aimed at young readers, "to have something on every page to reflect what those teens are thinking, what they are talking about, how it impacts them." [...even if it deosn't impact or concern them, apparently. - ed.]

Among those at the conference were 13 teenagers who served as fellows at newspapers.

Stephanie McMullen of Virginia Beach, Va., who works at the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., said newspapers have to walk a fine line between talking down to young readers [ I told you they aim to write at a sixth-grade level. -ed ] and filling the pages with news that younger people don't find interesting.

"Newspapers need to keep it professional but at the same time lower the standards a little so it's not always so serious," she said.

The future of newspaper journalism? This is coming from a teen "journalist" already working at a newspaper. This should scare any true supporter and practitioner of the profession. The future of the craft does not bode well.

An old anti-war adage comes to mind, but it should be updated. Perhaps the first casualty of modern packaged news is the truth.

Cross-posted at Mein Blogovault.

By Good Lt. at 08:06 AM | Comments |