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Nanny-Journalism is the mother of all news business problems 3/30/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in NannyJournalism.

Sometimes outsiders notice problems better than those too close to a situation, as did British journalist Neil McIntosh when he attended the Media Re:Public conference at USC’s Annenberg School. He noticed that “serious journalism was described at the conference, repeatedly, as something like broccoli, or medicine the citizenry needs to spoon down, no matter how unpalatable, if democracy is to survive.” He “[struggled] to think of another industry that views its premium product as something akin to a nasty cough syrup – necessary, good for your health, but irredeemably foul-tasting.” He wondered, shouldn’t at least some of the value and energy journalists now place in investigative and civic journalism be placed toward making their work more “palatable?”

What McIntosh revealed is that news in America has devolved into “Nanny-Journalism,” with journalists force-feeding citizen-infants their own brew of truth and objectivity. That worked fine while the public was still harnessed to their high-chairs, unaware of any news flavors beyond the NYTimes/WaPo/AP-generated “national conversation.” But now, with a more balanced, growth-oriented diet that includes talk radio, cable news, and the Internet, the infant has been spitting-out his medicine, bursting out of his harness, and walking away, seeking better news nutrition elsewhere. Worse yet, many have now been taught by New Media how to read the label, found it has never contained 100% pure truth or objectivity, and suspect journalism malpractice. Rather than whip-up an improved batch of the old elixir, journalists would be better-off coming-up with an entirely new, more appetizing prescription before their former dependents run away from home. (H/T: Adrian Monck)


1. Charlie Beckett - 3/31/08

Hi Steve,
I was the journalist from welfare-state Britain who had the audacity to suggest to Americans that market forces have some virtues. It’s what Adrian Monck calls the Chardonnay syndrome. When online journalists create new products they produce what they want to read instead of thinking about what the public want. So we get the journalistic equivalent of Pinot Noir when the people want Chardonnay. It doesn’t mean you can’t make fine wines but don’t expect them to dominate the market.
I blogged about the whole conference, which was a great event, at http://www.charliebeckett.org

2. Steve Boriss - 3/31/08

I’ll be sure to read your conference notes. Fine wines take time to develop. And I have confidence that over time, the marketplace will separate the wheat from the chaff, to mix agricultural metaphors. Also, there will be markets for those who insist on the top shelf product, and those who are happy with the house one, to mix alcoholic metaphors.

3. Some day the market will eliminate ‘boring’ news as an inefficiency « Slipr - 3/31/08

[…] Nanny-Journalism is the mother of all news business problems from The Future of News […]

4. Chris B. - 3/31/08

I think the folks pushing this vision do implicitly believe in a parental-nutrition model. The consumers are basically children, and they’ll just eat M & Ms instead of a balanced diet unless the journalists/nutritionists insist on providing mostly broccoli. But obviously (to some of us at least) the biochemistry that a nutritionist must master is somewhat more objective and empirical than the public virtue that journalists claim as resulting from their efforts.

5. John Grey - 4/3/08

To stir another metaphor into this soup, wasn’t the best nanny the Poppins woman, who did wonders with a spoonful of sugar.
There’s no reason for news to be unpalatable.

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