Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The (Ben) Bradley Effect on Journalism

I've been trying for ages to uncover why journalists and journalism always score so badly in surveys and polls about trust - and yet so many of us oldsters continue to read, view, comment and get involved with journalists and journalism. The answer is because, of course, we have either grown up with an expectation that the outputs of journalism will fill part of our day; or we've seen journalism do powerful things. For those of us who grew up with a paper being delivered it's hard to throw off the idea of news (and particular news makers) being part of our mental social network. Friends, almost. Yet now we have the tools to build far closer relationships with those "friends" (rather than the shady yoofy "brand") it's clear - if you talk to a dozen journalists or editors over 40 - that the majority of news makers now running the show really would rather audiences didn't exist - except to pay for the journalism - and certainly the idea that they might become part of the social network of news is genuinely hateful to many of them. Try this editorial conference from the Daily Beast:

I'd say that was a pair of traditionalists. Here's a rough breakdown from Pew (and the ever interesting Rich Gordon) on US news sectors:

Traditionalists (46 percent of American adults) rely almost exclusively on traditional media sources (TV, newspapers, radio). This is the biggest audience in terms of population, and also the oldest (with a median age of 52). They make up half of all the adults who read a newspaper yesterday and an even greater share (60 percent) of adults who watched TV news yesterday. They are the most likely group to be poor, retired and not to have completed high school or college.

Integrators (23 percent of adults) name a traditional medium as their main news source but also go online frequently for news. This group is younger (median age of 44), highly educated (almost half have college degrees compared to just 19 percent of the Traditionalists) and affluent (4 in 10 have household incomes greater than $75,000). They get news from many sources and spend the most time with the news of any of the segments. While using online news sources frequently, they also watch TV news as much as the Traditionalists and are even more likely to read newspapers. The core of this group is made up of Baby Boomers, now 44 to 62 and in the prime of their careers.

Net-Newsers (13 percent of adults) say the World Wide Web is their main news source and use it frequently. Not surprisingly, this is the youngest group (median age of 35) and the best-educated (more than half are college graduates). While almost a decade younger on average than the Integrators, they are comparably affluent. They are the most likely to have online access at work and are slightly more likely than the Integrators to have access to the latest technology (home broadband, digital music players and smart phones).

The Disengaged (14 percent of adults) basically express a lack of interest in news. They are disproportionately young, poor (35 percent have household incomes under $30,000) and poorly educated (seven in 10 have a high school degree or less).
(If you do the math, you will find there is another 4 percent of the population who did not name a primary news source or named the Internet as their main source but rarely go online. In terms of their news behaviors, they are probably similar to the Disengaged.

The issue, I suspect, is that however rich the rhetoric, and How to Spend It the threads, those that run, edit or teach the future of newspapers are integrators. They are Generation Betwixt. And all of us in Generation Betwixt suffer from the (Ben) Bradley Effect. Not that we vote for elected officials in a different way than we say we will (in polls). But that somehow we cannot quite throw off the idea of journalism as good for society. The idea that there are still Ben Bradlees out there. That is to say brave editors who go out on a limb (and a budget) to find big stories. Editors (and not single columnists) who don't belong to GroupThink, that Gentleman's Club where the Lists never close. Once it was called Inspiration...
...And even though we suspect that the edict: "follow the money" now means move into PR, we also suspect there are still trusted investigative reporters doing their best if we but knew. So we keep buying journalism in search of this increasingly mythical beast.

There comes a time soon when the Ben Bradlee Effect won't matter.

I guess Obama knows that already.

This is the layercaking of journalism: the world that now bridges professional group citizen journalism and Paul Dacre. The centre cannot hold.

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