Monday, July 5, 2010


The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.

Oscar Wilde
-- Irish dramatist, novelist, & poet (1854 - 1900)

This quote from the great Oscar Wilde tells us not much has changed in the last 100 years. Not much except the capacity of the pipeline delivering journalistic content and the financial investment at stake.

Pundits have declared the print media to be on its death bed and, indeed, one might have predicted it 25 years ago when industry consolidation began in earnest. Today, content is more often delivered to us by 24 hour cable news channels. The mega corporations behind it all – Time Warner, GE and News Corp -- are not in the game to win the Pulitzer. They are in it to make money.

When I was a kid, TV journalism was viewed by their corporate parents as a public service. Was that really the case or is just my nostalgic imagination? Would Wilde have said the same thing if he were alive mid-20th Century? I can’t be sure but it seemed to me that when the Greatest Generation was in charge of those institutions, they felt more responsible for the quality and accuracy of the content. They were among the leaders of our society and knew they had an obligation to its citizens. Perhaps that’s why we remember Cronkite, Huntley, Morrow and Sevareid so fondly.

Overwhelmed as we are by a constant barrage of infotainment, purveyors of cable news must attract viewers by being outrageous. Journalism is no longer about providing information for viewers to make intelligent decisions about issues that affect them. It’s about the battle – Republicans vs. Democrats, conservatives vs. liberals, red states vs. blue.

There is an essential laziness to this approach. Covering politics is easy. You just report what people say. What we want, what we need, what we are desperate for is reporting on policy not politics. But, that would be hard work. Imagine how difficult it would be for a reporter to research his or her topic, consult with experts reflecting a variety of opinions and provide a concise report on that topic. Why bother? It’s much easier to report what the politicians are saying about the issue.

This weekend, Fox News reports about Elena Kagan’s “unabashed liberalism” while MSNBC describes her as “Confident but still cautious. Smart and then some. Disarming. Knowing. Wicked funny.” Which of these comments informs us about her qualifications or her likely predispositions on matters that are important to us? Neither!

I could provide hundreds of examples but that’s not the point. I am here to report that I stopped watching all of them – Fox, MSNBC, CNN – about two months ago and I have not suffered from a news deficit. Indeed, I have used the time I normally devote to watching the news to finding the news. My Yahoo home page is now flooded with feeds from a variety of news sources. When you find one you like, you can get it delivered to your email or your cell phone. For me it’s the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, Marketwatch and Barron’s plus newsletters from John Maudlin, Jeff Nichols, Dan Primack, McKinsey and PIMCO. For you, who knows? The Washington Post, USA Today,, People magazine. It’s easy to find something that suits.

So, take my advice and give up cable news. I guarantee you will be better informed and enjoy it more.


  1. Very well written and communicated. If only the collective consciousness would hold the media accountable. A far more educated society would be far more interesting.

  2. I don't watch cable news. Now I know why. Has news ever been unbiased? - Chris

  3. Our media coverage is just another symptom of a society that has lost/is losing its values.