Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where has all the journalistic integrity gone?

Today is the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Charley, one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit Florida in recent memory and one of the only hurricanes to seriously affect Orlando. Appropriately, the hometown paper contains a feature story on the hurricane, its aftermath, and the outlook five years later. Now, the Orlando Sentinel (or Slantinel, as my husband likes to call it) has never been a paragon of excellence; it has not won any awards for quality. And in recent years, with about 2/3 of its staff being laid off, the paper has become something of a sad joke.

Just the other day, I was curious as to what time the space shuttle was landing at Cape Canaveral. Silly me, I thought the local paper would have a story about it. Well, it did, but it simply said the shuttle was landing that day and neglected to mention the time, which I found after a few minutes of searching on the NASA website. The story was a pathetic four sentences, something to the effect of: The space shuttle will land today after a 15-day mission to the international space station. Wow, what an overload of information!

Anyway, getting back to today's feature article. It contains this little gem: "Charley devastated this Gulf Coast community in 2004, crashing across Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte like an angry drunk swinging a billy club. Originally forecast to hit Tampa Bay, it sucker-punched Southwest Florida, making a hard right into Charlotte Harbor just before landfall."

An angry drunk swinging a billy club? Sucker-punched? While these sorts of descriptions might work well for a creative writing class, they seem just a tad out of place in a newspaper article. I only took one journalism class in college, and even I know that this is not newspaper style.

I know these questions have already been asked by people more important than me, but what happened to real reporting? What happened to our newspapers? All across the country, cities are losing their newspapers, and no one seems to care. Do we even need them anymore? In today's blog- and Twitter-filled world, are newspapers completely obsolete? Call me crazy or old-fashioned, but I would still rather read a factual account of an event in The New York Times than to watch a YouTube video or an iReport on CNN. Is it because I'm a writer at heart and have a soft spot for the printed word, or is it because at the advanced age of 28 I have somehow fallen behind the times?


Zea said...

Well, there seem to be two issues. One is that there are fewer and fewer newspapers, and the ones that are left have shoe-string budgets. The other is that reporting (both in print and in newscasts) has degraded seriously over time. These two issues are probably somewhat related. With less money to run a paper, less time is spend on quality control, fact checking, and generally having a good writing and reporting staff. But, if newspapers retained their excellence, then they would seem to be able to make themselves indispensable, and budget issues would resolve themselves. While this was probably never true of el Sentinel, hopefully paragons like the New York Times, etc. will be able to continue on.

I have to say though that as much as I love the ideas of paper newspapers and cherish memories of reading them on Sunday mornings, in practice I prefer online news. It is much more convenient to get and read. I don't have to pay for it (except when Rupert Murdoch has his say), and it is much less wasteful for the environment. But, just because something is set in ones and zeros rather than type set and printed, it should still have integrity and strive for excellence. Maybe it is the instantaneous 24 hour news cycle and 160 word message culture that is deteriorating journalism in all its forms. Very sad.

Yana said...

I prefer to read the news online as well (I hate getting that ink all over my hands), but as you said, it should still be written to a certain standard. The 24-hour news cycle has ruined the news with its need to constantly be discussing something. The smallest comment or gesture becomes the subject of speculation while much actual news from around the world is ignored. Perhaps our networks and newspapers should take a cue from ones in Europe and focus on world events rather than what President Obama had for breakfast.