“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century, and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
In my short stint as a newspaper reporter I was happy to write on the opening of a new restaurant, about the California Highway Patrol’s training academy, the Port of West Sacramento, and other pleasant stories. Each fit with the unspoken, unwritten edict of The West Sacramento News-Ledger: bring locals stories to life without negativity. Not that all stories were positive, of course, I skirted controversy every now and then. But constructive writing was always the first priority.
I have a unhealthy fascination with Yahoo News and SF Gate, the latter being the home of the printed San Francisco Chronicle. They are two terrible beacons of unrestrained fascination with the glittering and the trivial. Top Ten and Top 25 slideshows pass for journalism. Their home pages are wildly unfocused, one story promises Katie Couric’s take on “local chefs and bartenders bringing major flavor to Phoenix,” while another, not branded as an editorial, says that “conservative Texans love to fight the Feds until they need them.” And the occasional good story, like the one they just ran on Hurricane Harvey.
Yahoo News is mostly a collection of articles picked from other news organizations. Like Time, the Huffington Post, and even Architectural Digest. It’s a combination of celebrity gossip stories and hard news, but rarely any stories from a conservative point of view. Yahoo stands like a bonfire, sticks of unmeritorious, irrelevant writing set ablaze in a pile to stare at.
SFGate is little different, they specializing in click-bait slide shows passing as journalism. “New on Streaming Services” (image 1 of 55). “Thirty Three Game of Throne Actors Who Look Extremely Different in Real Life.” “Newlyweds live in RV to pay off $50,000 of debt in one year (image 1 of 11). The Chronicle often covers Twitter celebrity comments as actual news. “Bella Hadid shuts down fat shamers in latest tweet.” I have never tweeted. The USENET flame wars of the mid-to late 90s convinced me that no one changes their mind. The threads back then seemed a little more civil, although it was always a question of who would call the other person a Nazi first, thus ending all possible merit to the conversation.
What’s unseen in all this bad writing is that clicks count. Editors know exactly how many clicks each story gets and writers are presumably rewarded. Advertising revenue must be generated and future writing assignments based on the performance of previous articles. That’s a very depressing thought, that ad views now directly control content. Publishers used to separate news departments from any entertainment division they might have but no longer. We now have infotainment. It may be that constructive, positive reporting no longer pays. If so, we are lost.
Image from here: https://pagely.com/blog/2011/05/what-makes-good-writer/