Let us address the declining fortunes of today’s mainstream mass media.
(Yes, I can hear your pained screams of “Nooooo … we don’t want to!” We really must, however, because it’s not about them, but us — about our ability to be at least quasi-informed about who’s-doing-what-to-whom-and-why, in order for us to be a self-governing people. So buckle up, here we go.)
The honchos of America’s establishment media are quick to blame such external causes as the Internet for their problems. But if they looked internally, they might notice that they’re damn near eaten up with a bad case of conventional wisdomitis. The problem with conventional wisdom is that more often than not, it’s nothing more than the contrived “wisdom” of the corporate powers.
Ironically, this narrow perspective not only afflicts their delivery of the news, but also their business model. For example, with newspaper readership declining, the accepted industry response by owners and publishers has been to fire beat reporters, shrink the news hole, reduce reporting to rewriting of wire-service articles — and then run hokey PR campaigns hyping the shriveled product as “Real News.”
But here’s a bit of real news that very few newspapers have mentioned: The new owners of the Orange County Register are blazing a contrarian path toward their paper’s revival and prosperity. They’re expanding the Register‘s news staff, its coverage and the paper’s size, doubling the editorial page and adding more sections. Editor Ken Brusic notes that offering less to subscribers and charging more not only is a ripoff and an insult to readers, but a sure path to failure. “So,” he says, “we’re now offering more.”
Gosh — hire real watchdog reporters, dig out real news and actually try to make the paper real to local readers — what a novel notion for a news business! Unsurprisingly, the conventional wisdomites are sneering at the Register‘s nonconformist effort. “It’s not what most people are doing,” said one analyst of the media business.
Exactly! And that’s why it’s so promising!
Of course, getting in the face of power and defying the conventional wisdom can be a poor career move. You can quickly begin feeling like B.B. King, when he sings, “No one loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’, too.”
Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein now know that lonely feeling. This teamed-up pair of political partisan observers have long been esteemed peers of the Washington punditry class. Cautious, middle-of-the-road, think-tank conservatives, they were popular on the insider talk-show circuit as reliable voices of conventional thinking. Until they went rogue.