Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Journal: All The "News" That Fits In Four Column Inches

In the land of news-deprivation blindness, the 400-word story is somewhere between prince and king.  Just one of the many ways newspapers are like the monarchical form of government, I suppose.

This morning the Journal has a 400-word story as way of correction about its publication of SBA scores by classroom back in February.  As stories that are really corrections go, it's alright, basically getting the point across that the classroom figures were imprecise but close enough for those at the Journal to satisfactorily sleep at night. 

We at Burque Babble certainly hope the sleep patterns of those involved are undisturbed.

At the same time, the 400-word story points to a monarchical degree of antiquation in the whole newspaper as news business.  I'm not saying it's anybody's fault, but somewhere along the early 20th Century line the idea arose that newspapers would be our primary source of news.  One way they would accomplish this would be by gatekeeping what was newsworthy and what was not, then printing short, religiously parsimonious really, explanations of what was happening around town and the world in reading-while-eating-Cheerios tidbits.  

As the gatekeepers, newspapers have garnered a certain intellectual cachet, one TV news really has never been able to intellectually usurp, only numerically outperform in terms of readers/viewers.  The printing of a story in a paper has served as a in imprimatur to a set of proposed facts or observations.  It's a story BECAUSE it's in the paper.  

Nothing terribly earth-shattering in the above paragraphs (the norm actually here at Burque Babble) but something to remember when it comes to the "story" of SBA scores by classroom.   

In sum, the Journal legitimized some statistically skanky numbers by printing them in the paper.  Now, the Journal has, finally, legitimized the sentiment by many that those numbers were statistically skanky by putting this little story/correction in the paper.  At the same time, gatekeeper that it is, it carefully (through years of J-school training) frames the debate in a way that purports to place the Journal above the statistically skanky as some sort of impartial observer of "facts", even though it is the exact organization that "legitimized" the skanky statistics to begin with.

And it does all this in 400 or so words.  

What's lost in all this...well there's a proverbial buttload of that.  Where to start...where to start...okay, let's suspend our inclination to lambaste the Journal for making itself the story when the story is something far deeper, and focus our short attention span on the paradigm that leads to 400 word stories about 400,000 word topics.  

The antiquated monarchy of newspapers as gatekeepers of news needs to be taken off "but I like to have the feel of newsprint on my hands" life-support.  We've dumbed America down enough, Albuquerque Journal.  It's time to change your mission from gatekeeper of facts/opinion to window of facts/opinion.  For example, instead of cherry-picking quotes from union president Ellen Bernstein, APS officials, etc. newspapers should create an online dialogue between all of the above and others who wish to add their views.  Instead of simply printing the statistically skanky, the Journal must explain the statistics, why they are or are not useful and why people think this way.

Ergo, newspapers are dead, and more importantly should be dead if they can't usefully incorporate the Internet and stop serving as simply hyper-short collections of words, phrases, sentences sprinkled between tire store and classified ads.  They also have to realize that their reality TV-level attempts to "become the story" by publishing useless statistics, then feigning surprise at their uselessness (both the newspaper and the statistics) is laughably obvious, and obviously desperate.

Good luck selling those tire ads, Albuquerque Journal.  

P.S.:  I realize the above is nothing new, and that anybody in any field of "expertise" is almost always shocked/dismayed when they read a newspaper story about their field of "expertise".  It's like being a big baseball fan and the movie has Shoeless Joe Jackson batting right-handed.  Times infinity.  

1 comment:

Al said...

and to hasten the death of the Journal...

The price of subscription to the Journal goes up on July 1st, because they cannot sell enough advertising.