Review: Losing The News

The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy

Losing The News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy. By Alex S. Jones. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, 234 pp.

Losing The News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy. By Alex S. Jones. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, 234 pp.

Alex Jones dissects the past, present, and future of news journalism in Losing the News. While discussing the intersection of media and democracy, Jones calls upon his years of industry knowledge in this tome that explores the history of what exactly news is now and has been in the past.  He argues that the “iron core” of news, which consists of the serious news reported by professional journalists and is essential for legitimate democracy, is being undermined by an economic model that is unsustainable in the current environment.  Professional newspapers still provide the lion’s share of serious news, while new media offer derivative content and act as a delivery system.  Demand, which is linked to advertising revenues, determines what will be spent on serious news; as public demand for serious fare appears to have diminished, news industry budgets have been slashed.  As a nation, the United States “will be losing a lot of news.” 

Jones laments the current situation media corporations have created for themselves with the desire for corporate profits by cutting the journalists that have been creating the core of news.  The “core” that Jones writes about are the front-page stories about war, poverty, politics, and other key issues and events facing society.  Core news requires journalists to be backed up by multiple sources and needs to be painstakingly right.  These are the articles that create other news, which the pundits pontificate about and editorials are drawn from.  Core news pages are integral for prosperous media and, in turn, an informed democracy.  However, serious journalistic endeavors are usually the most expensive for multiple reasons; the salaries for the journalists, the time and resources it takes to do proper investigative reporting, and libel insurance for potential lawsuits.  Jones highlights Time’s change to feature more analysis rather than original reporting and their most recent content revamp that is shorter on hard news.  As media outlets consolidate the amount of money they are willing to be spend, the “iron core” of news shrinks.

It is because of the internet’s success in taking away from classified revenue (Jones points directly to that newspapers are scrambling to create new revenue.  Jones dives into the current situation of opinion media on television that has also created an echo chamber online populated with one-sided commentary. Tabloid journalism has been both a positive and negative for news. Jones notes that tabloid journalism is a revenue generator, yet decries it as a core news killer.  One only has to look at personality news shows on Fox News or MSNBC—tabloids are about turning profit.  While shows like Rachel Maddow’s or Bill O’Reilly’s are sometimes considered in the same breath as tabloids, Jones distinguishes them as advocacy shows. They want to influence and set the national agenda just as much as news reporters.  “In this form of news, the democratic watchdog role is top priority.”  Jones laments that as the world continues to turn to online journalism there will be more information, but it will not be of the same caliber as we have seen in the past.

In his conclusion, Jones discusses the feasibility of saving the news, or asks if the news even needs saving, although it is clear from his exposition that something needs to be done. Jones evokes celebrated former publisher of The Washington Post, Katherine Graham, and states that a strong core comes from a strong bottom line.  He puts it simply—‘saving the news’ means “finding a commercial model that will sustain professional journalism focused on serious news, conducted with traditional values and standards for a broad audience.” He concedes that this might not be in newspaper form even though that would be his preference.  While this book is a good roadmap it will be hard to change the direction of media corporations that are most concerned about a bottom line.

Overall, Jones uses multiple examples and sources from his over 30 years of experience to write a compelling book on what exactly constitutes the news and what needs to be done to save “the core.”  He demonstrates a command of the issues, and one can detect the concern in his words for a profession he loves dearly.  This book is a good read for those worried about the increase in tabloid journalism that is pervasive throughout media.  It is worth assigning in college classes dealing with journalism and media and politics, as it provides a strong assessment of the past and future of the news business and is sure to stimulate discussion.  It also is useful for readers of The Drudge Reportor The Huffington Postto understand that new media sources for information still have to pay their respect to their predecessor: the newspaper. 

Related Links:

Losing the News(Amazon)

San Diego Newspaper Sold(The New York Times)

New York Magazine Launches Politics Channel(The Huffington Post)