(Originally posted on The Judgment of Paris Forum, March 18, 2004.)
Of all of the stories that made the rounds of various news sources this week, the most significant (and most encouraging) in terms of its relationship to the topics that come up at this forum is undoubtedly the following:
US traditional media in steep decline, study finds
Tue Mar 16
WASHINGTON (AFP) - US newspapers, magazines and major television networks are steadily losing audiences amid what experts called "an epochal transformation" of the industry marked by dwindling public trust and shrinking newsrooms.
But a report titled "The State of the News Media 2004" also noted Monday a major expansion over the past decade of online media and so-called ethnic news outlets.
"The answer we arrive at in 2004 is that journalism is in the midst of an epochal transformation, as momentous probably as the invention of the telegraph or television," said the authors of the study compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an affiliate of Columbia University.
About 55 million newspapers are being sold in the United States each day, an 11-percent drop since 1990, according to the report.
The decline is attributed to falling interest among Americans as well as to the public's diminishing trust in the wake of highly publicized scandals like last year's admission by New York Times reporter Jayson Blair that he had made up elements of dozens of stories published by the daily.
Believability of the daily newspaper has fallen from 80 percent in 1985 to 59 percent in 2002, according to the report.
As a result, only 54 percent of US residents now read a newspaper during the week and the numbers continue to drop.
Faced with reduced circulation, many newspapers have made sharp cutbacks in newsroom staffing and expenditures: they had about 2,200 fewer newsroom employees in 2002 than in 1990.
And they are trying to adjust their content by delivering softer, more entertaining fare.
Lifestyle features have emerged as the leading genre in print news, consuming a total of 23 percent of available space, the study showed.
US governmental affairs came in second with 21 percent of space allocation, followed by domestic issues that are given 19 percent of space, and entertainment news and celebrity gossip with eight percent.
The war on terror notwithstanding, only seven percent of newspaper space are now dedicated to foreign affairs, the researchers noted.
The situation is even grimmer at leading television networks -- ABC, NBC and CBS: faced with stiff competition from cable outlets, they have been shedding their viewership and reporters faster still.
If a decade ago 40.7 million Americans watched their nightly newscasts, that number dropped to 29.3 million by last November, a decline of 28 percent.
The upshot was significant cutbacks in network newsrooms.
The number of on-air correspondents for evening newscasts are down by more than a third since 1985 to an average of 50 people per newsroom, while the number of overseas bureaus has been cut in half, according to the study.
"The networks are showing no real signs of innovation or of creating genuinely new kinds of news programming that might win new audiences," the report said.
Job losses have been painful at leading US magazines as well. Newsweek has reduced its staff by 50 percent over that past 20 years while Time shed 15 percent of its staff.
However, a boom area can be found in newspapers, television and radio stations that cater to Hispanic, Asian and Black audiences.
The combined circulation of Spanish-language daily newspapers, for example, has gone from less than 140,000 in 1970 to more than 1.7 million in 2002 and is still climbing, the study found.
No wonder so many media sources have jumped on the weight-hysteria bandwagon. Lacking the resources to cover genuinely significant international news, the press resorts to lifestyle stories that demand (and receive) little in the way of research or criticism, turning "filler" material into front-page headlines.
But positive stories do not pump up circulation, do they? Who wants to buy a newspaper about women discovering that they do not need to feel perpetually hungry and miserable? Who would tune in to a program about women enjoying life without starving or torturing themselves? That will not do! No, we need to manufacture a mythical "epidemic," and write with Y2K-like alarmism, in order to grab people's attention--right?
Well, that's what they think.
In truth, this marketing-based approach--to hallucinate a crisis, and then to keep writing about it, ad infinitum--is precisely the kind of duplicity that is leading to the demise of the American media empire.
Today's reading public (and especially today's "Torrid girls") are far more savvy about the press than previous generations were. They know that the line between "news" and "spin" is indistinct, and that far from being "objective," or even scrupulous about facts, reporters are intensely biased, and cleverly "shape" stories in order to persuade readers of their own point of view. They realize that far from being "the voice of the people," the press neither speaks for them, nor even to them.
Let us hope that this rejection of the "traditional media" extends to mass-market fashion glossies (as we believe it does), and that the public finally realizes just how warped and unnatural their views of the world--and of women--truly are.
The age of media hegemony is ending. The restoration of art and beauty has begun.