Bread sustains our lives, while circus entertains. We stand at the precipice of change in journalism – debating the choices of bread or circus. There have not yet been any Pulitzer Prices awarded for blogging – and this writer does not see this happening in the near future. Pulitizer Prizes in journalism are reserved for the bread – serious journalism examining serious issues. The world of internet journalism remains in the domain of circus.
There are serious writers who find a market on the internet. Most of these folks fall into the category of opinion writers. Acting as individuals they have no foreign correspondents – or White House correspondents, or Wall Street correspondents. They do not generally travel to the scene of disasters such as Katrina, and generally do not personally follow the genocide of far off nations. They do not have Editorial Boards governing their content or presentation.
Ironically, internet journalists catch a lot of grief from many who claim professional journalism. The reality is that most print and television journalism are driven by their traffic, measured in numbers of subscribers or Nielson television ratings. Success is not measured by professional journalistic ethics – but merely by standard measurements of capitalism – How much money did you make.
The dumbing down of consumers to the level of circus began long before the internet provided opportunity for individuals to join the fray. Cable news networks, such as FOX and MSNBC, directly contribute to the circus atmosphere – while criticizing the internet community. David Shuster has been an open critic of ‘blogging’ – but it was Shuster who was reprimanded for his comments on the Clinton’s ‘pimping’ Chelsea during a political campaign. Shuster is a big part of the Circus.
Others who claim professionalism are Chris Mathews, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olberman, Shawn Hannity, and Greta Van Sustainmypaycheck. Mathews was challenged by one of his guests the other day on his exagerating some important issue of the day – his defense: “This is Hardball, that is what we do.” There are many who consider Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh professionals of journalism – when in fact these are the standard bearers of the circus.
When we stand in the checkout at the local grocery store we do not see racks of magazines in the domain of professionalism. Rather we are assaulted by tabloids. Jennifer and Angelina are the hot topics while the country faces the worst domestic and foreign crisis of memory.
When we hear MSNBC claim they are the ‘fastest growing network’ we cringe with fear. Their claim merely reflects their tabloid stature – and their quest for more of the same. While FOX and MSNBC jocky for Neilson bragging rights, they compete for the tabloid audience.
There are professional journalists hanging around. Witness Jim Lehrer and the News Hour – scooping up a few percentage points of the market. And National Public Radio, which holds a steady one to two percent market share.
What drives this phenomenon of circus journalism? We do not know. Why are people, news consumers, avoiding serious in-depth journalism reporting on serious issues. Are people too busy with two-income families, too busy with children in multiple sports and band practice to boot? Are people seeking relief – entertainment – from their stressful lives?
We do not know the answers.