I spoke recently to a network executive -- a really good guy -- who made it clear that they no longer have the resources to do a satisfactory job of reporting. He told me that they used to have the money and personnel to actually develop stories and verify what they were reporting on. They no longer do. (If anything, it's even worse at most newspapers.)
So reporting on TV is now left mostly to good-looking, cheerful people who are willing to work cheap.
As they have become less competent, the news media have simultaneously become more irresponsible. One has only to look at the hysteria they have whipped up in the past decade over Y2K, Bird Flu, Ebola Virus, WMDs, SARS, Swine Flu, Balloon Boy, and a whole lot of other non-stories.
Once they develop a "narrative" -- that is, a group-think version of a story -- they are generally done with it. I have written extensively of the "narrative" about the death of television.
Because Toyota is a client of mine, this past weekend I paid particular attention to the sensational story -- covered hysterically by the news media last week -- of James Sikes, the guy in Southern California who claimed his Prius went out of control and had to be stopped by a Highway Patrolman.
According to Forbes.com the story is complete nonsense. You can read about it in posts I wrote this weekend here and here.
The sad part is that it seems all the real reporting -- the investigation into who the guy is and what he may have been up to -- has been done by bloggers.
As a blogger myself, it is very disconcerting to know that the people I think of as responsible, professional journalists are lazy and incompetent and the difficult job of ferreting out the truth is left to bozos like me.
Here's a typical, hysterical TV news report on the Prius story.
Here's a quote from a report by a congressional panel about Sikes's Prius...
"...Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down...it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time."Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for of California, one of the ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said yesterday that the findings "certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events" reported by Sikes.
They also raise questions about the role of the news media in finding and reporting the truth.