The writing on the wall? Part II

As we march further into the 21st century, it is clear that an array of economic and technological factors is rapidly decentralizing the power of the media in general and the news industry in particular.

Media 521 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Media 521
(photo credit: Associated Press)
In my previous column, I discussed the deteriorating relationship between the media and the general public. As we march further into the 21st century, it is clear that an array of economic and technological factors is rapidly decentralizing the power of the media in general and the news industry in particular.
This had led to a vicious cycle in which less money is being invested in producing quality news, which leads to bland coverage and, inevitably, lower consumer confidence.
As I mentioned, studies show that fewer and fewer people in the United States trust the media. In addition, TV news, once considered to be the future of the industry, is slowly losing both its audience to online sources.
What’s perplexing to me is that even with the knowledge of this trend, it’s not clear if anything is being done to stop it.
This is particularly evident in a time when the news media is supposed to be playing its most important role: as a disseminator of pertinent information for voters in an election year.
I have been trying to watch as much of the US election coverage as possible, especially from the major networks that reach millions of people each night. I have found the reporting and the general attitude toward the election to be lackluster.
Yes, everyone is reporting the events of the day, but little more than that. Campaign stops, stump speeches, endorsements and a seemingly endless number of polls are dissected from every direction.
We are missing the side stories about the candidates, behind-the-scenes accounts of the campaigns, the human interest stories and coverage of the voters and their rationales.
The networks have abandoned these ideas unless they make big headlines – in other words unless they have no choice but to cover them. The lack of resources means that there is not enough initiative being taken to find fresh campaign stories.
Another reason such stories have been cut back is out of fear of alienating the campaigns. If a network should find dirt on either side and then air it, is it at risk of being shut out? With every media outlet losing market share, that might be a gamble they’re not willing to take, preferring to navigate calmer waters.
The result: most of the potentially damaging information on the various campaigns is left to the partisan media outlets and is often exaggerated to the point that voters can’t base an opinion on it. That’s a loss on all sides and one of the reasons that the US has become such a politically polarized society. The mainstream media has become so bland and the only real flavoring is on the fringes.
But what about here in Israel? The situation here is a mixed bag. On one hand, the media is in very bad shape. Many people do watch TV news, but the situation with the stations themselves is not optimal. The government Channel 1 is run by a person who was appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which might be problematic when it comes to objectivity.
Channel 10 has been under threat of closure for a long time now due to money owed to the government for licensing fees, etc. It is also very possible that a future government commission will have to decide if they’ll continue to operate. That’s not the best of situations either, is it?
Channel 2, undoubtedly influenced by the overall situation, may decide that rocking the boat by doing potentially damaging political stories might not be the best thing for its future. It would be hard to blame them for not wanting to take risks where the government has such a large say in the future of the media outlets running in the country.
To say that Israel’s newspapers are not in good shape would be an understatement. Almost all are in a constant struggle to survive by trying to find new revenue streams.
Does that mean we’re headed for uniform coverage of the Israeli election as well? Well, that’s where the good news for the domestic news outlets comes in. This campaign is less than three months long and every party’s top priority is to get their message out any way possible and saturate the airwaves as much as possible. With that need in mind, the Israeli media need to start presenting the parties with equal opportunities to speak their piece.
Personally, I would start with something they do have in the US that we are lacking here – debates. Not just between the heads of the parties (which they used to have here years ago) but also between the junior members as well. There can be specific topics covered and every party should be invited to send a representative who’ll explain its platform.
The media also need to start digging. The New York Times does an excellent job of checking the accuracy of both candidates’ statements. Would that be such a bad idea to do in a local paper? How about running bios on the people running for office? We should at least have access to comprehensive information about the people who are voting on the direction this country will be taking. And yes, we need the human interest stories about the campaigns themselves. Who’s taking part in them and why.
Covering campaigns should be like any hard news with everything that comes with it, for better or for worse. The parties should be ready to go out and convince the voters that they are the right list to support. The Israeli public needs to be able to look to the media for the information they need to make a decision, especially now with so much at stake. If it isn’t provided, for whatever reason, perhaps the diminishing role of the media in our society is a deserved one.Jeremy Ruden is an independent media consultant and a former producer at the Fox News Channel in New York.