Cue the theme from “Jaws”

jawsSo, are many newsrooms in the allegedly “American” media poised to plunge back into history and become “European” newspapers again, publications that openly advocate specific political and even theological points of view?

To look at it another way, is the nonNewsweek phenomenon going to come to your local newspaper?

After all, it’s impossible to do real news on the Internet, right? Everything turns into a blog, right?

That’s the question that a loyal GetReligion reader asked after hearing that the Ann Arbor (Mich.) News is closing this July or, more accurately, evolving into the new AnnArbor.com.

What does this have to do with religion news?

It seems that the “content director” — maybe that means “editor” — of the new project has been giving online interviews to a former journalist named Jim Carty. As it turns out, editor Tony Dearing has been very blunt. Let’s jump in for a bit of this longer interview:

CARTY: I think one of the many criticisms of newspaper websites has been that they haven’t had a lot of personality. Salon has a personality. Slate has a personality. The AnnArborChronicle has a personality. Have you thought at all about the personality you want this site to have, or even that you do want it to have one?

DEARING: It will have a personality. We’re going to ask reporters to be themselves and blog according to who they are. To write according to who they are. To speak with their own voice. I think the future in journalism is you tell people who you are, you tell them what your biases are, you tell them where you come from, this is where I’m coming from and what I’m reporting, and you let other people pile in and bring their own views. Now, I don’t want somebody who is mild-mannered to pretend they’re obnoxious or anything. …

I don’t think John Stewart is all that wrong. If something’s crap, you can kind of say, ‘This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.” People will understand what you’re coming from and what you think. They ask, “How can they say that.”

CARTY: That sounds like a lot more latitude for opinion than within a traditional newspaper. Is that a fair take?

DEARING: Yeah, I would say so. That’s what I envision — more opinion, more attitude, more candor. We all have done stories where what we wrote and what we thought were two completely different things. We will try to write what we really think the story is, and not necessarily the traditional story form.

No, the subject of religion coverage doesn’t come up. But you know that this kind of old-fashioned, “European,” advocacy journalism will affect some of the hottest issues in our culture — think abortion, marriage, education, religious liberty, etc. So the journalists get to express their opinions in content and story selection and then readers get to protest in the comments pages?

Oh my. Is this the brave new world of news?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I think the future in journalism is you tell people who you are, you tell them what your biases are, you tell them where you come from, this is where I’m coming from and what I’m reporting…

    Are most reporters so arrogant that they believe that readers care who the reporters are? Or has the quality of the product (i.e. news articles) gotten so poor that editors and publishers believe that readers will forgive the poor quality if they agree with the viewpoint of the writer. Wrong!

  • Harris

    Ah come on, bias? More like ineptitude. This is the Advance organization we are talking about.

    Carty’s second installment, I believe covers the actual substance and plan for reporting. Strip it down, and they plan to do what the Detroit papers are doing as well. Online news coverage during the week, a Thursday “paper” and a Sunday “paper” — sounds as if it will be Ann Arbor News .com.

    Myself, I wouldn’t let the Ann Arbor part suggest the bias. After all, the principal problem for the News as with other print editions is the flight of young readers. The new entity is far more likely to try to appeal to the non-university monied neighborhoods.

    And as to religion, have you ever seen what passed for religion section in the old News? Thin stuff indeed, not that there weren’t some highly interesting religious stories walking around, especially on the campus.

  • Quantum Mechanic

    Well, given that the drive-by media is completely non-objective even though they (falsely) claim to be, I’d welcome a return to openly partisan media (like in Europe and like here in the US up until partway into the 20th century) so that everyone would know what they were dealing with, instead of having to watch out for axe-grinding behind a mask of feigned objectivity.

  • gfe

    As a journalist of 30 years, I don’t welcome the trend, although it seems inevitable with shrinking newsroom budgets and the shift to news online, which doesn’t seem to monetize as well for reasons I don’t understand.

    I’m not against opinion pieces by any means. But if there’s a dearth of solid reporting behind the opinions, what good are they? I need more than other people’s opinions to come up with a legitimate one of my own.

  • Martha

    Speaking as a European (ahem), have American newspapers really been such bastions of impartiality and non-partisanship, that you could pick up any three at random and have no idea which party, or which political philosophy, or what general tendency (left or right, capitalism or trades unions) their proprietors and editors favoured?

    It is only now that you lucky(!) Americans will get slanted coverage?

  • Mary

    Martha, of course there have been instances of media, throughout US history that have been biased, but prior to media deregulation, those publications rose or fell based on their merits. Prior to deregulation, the media here was much more dependent upon local readership and viewers, all of them, from the poorest upwards, and given the fact that there were more on the working poor to middle class side, than there were in the upper incomes, they tended previously, to serve to inform the public. In Europe, and that includes the UK, the emphasis was more on what the elites, of either political extreme preferred. Europe has always been far more class driven. The reporting, directed at the working poor and middle classes, there, has been largely to propagandize them. What we’ve seen in the US under media deregulation and consolidation of ownership, has been to a more European model.. just as we’ve seen our political system more increasingly framed by European political extremes of “right” and “left”, instead of our traditional beliefs of conservative and classical liberalism. I am aware that conservatism and classical liberalism didn’t originate here, but no where else in the world, did those beliefs exist under a government that ensured rights, freedoms and a framework that allowed for moderation and thoughtful consideration.

  • hoosier

    Mary,

    Don’t know what you mean by deregulation, but I think Quantum Mechanic is right about the history of news in the US. I just did a lot of research based on newspaper coverage of American Reconstruction, and those papers looked sort of like a cross between a blog and the Amish section of the Budget.* “No news for New Orleans” was a typical kind of entry, sort of like “Farmers planting broccoli this week” in the Budget. And highly partisan, one paper from Kansas was clearly a Democratic rag, it printed, week after week, a diatribe against Lincoln and “Black Republicanism” in general. That’s the past, and it may be the future.

    Incidentally, the papers varied considerably in their overt partisanship. Some wore it on their sleeves, others were more subtle, but with the issue I was researching (reactions to certain Reconstruction policies) it wasn’t hard to spot the biases.

    *The Budget is part local paper for some town (forget which) in East Central Ohio, and part national Amish and Plain Community newsletter, with correspondents writing in on the local happenings, which means the local happenings that would be of concernt to other Amish/plain communities. It’s a fascinating read, if a bit ag-centric.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    hoosier:

    The early American press was very, very European. Ask Thomas Jefferson.

    Most historians would say that the “American model” develops in mid-to-late 19th century, linked to the speeding up of the printing presses, the growth of wire services, etc.

  • hoosier

    tmatt,

    You say these papers were “European.” But in fact they were “American” as they were published here. Yes, the press changed; my point is, we have this heritage; we may be returning to it, or at least returning to some parts of it.

    Perhaps just as technological change ushered in what you seem to call the American model (and what perhaps ought to be called the 20th century American model), technological change will usher it out. Maybe that was a model particularly well-suited to the technologies of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, and new technologies demand a new model. Those technologies certainly seem to demand a new business model. Craig’s list, anyone?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    hoosier:

    Check a basic journalism history book. You are not arguing with me.

    And yes, tech changes may create a new or a new-old model. It has happened before. The impact on public discourse would still be quite radical.

    Or do you think Air America and Rush are nice options for basic news coverage?

  • Jay

    Tmatt,

    It’s interesting that to save their dying business models, many ink-stained wretches argue that without their boots on the ground — providing accurate and timely coverage of news as it happens — the various new media would have nothing to comment on.

    So if now the news pages abandons any pretense of objectivity, why do we need the e-MSM after their printed papers go away?

    J


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