02
Apr
10

Digital Journalism & the Slogans of Doom (2)

[Aptil 2, 2010] 

[This post reflects the state of the site discussed at the time. The issues raised are still relevant to the discussion of digital journalism in the US.]

In an attempt to understand what impact the digital face of major news outlets might be having on the declining state of American journalism, I started by taking a close look at CBS News. As I mentioned in my previous post, this site shares with many of its competitors a rather lifeless, by-the-numbers approach to design and architecture.

That is, it’s merely functional. Yes, users can conveniently access news stories. There’s a lot more to a motivating Web presence, however, than access. Users also need a point of orientation. At cbsnews.com, however, the editors have completely leveled the landscape. There’s no hint of expert opinion signifying which stories might logically claim our attention, as adults concerned about the state of the world. Instead of meaningful orientation, the site offers only an incoherent wall of noise.

Hence, on the home page for April 1, 2010, a story about Apple’s iPad jostled for attention with a profile of celebrity sex addiction, with recipes for Easter, with a story about P. Diddy and with a disturbing announcement of a potential beheading in the middle east.

Can’t spell “press” without “PR.”
More unrelated items followed, grouped by the program they air on. To me, this signals a serious confusion of intent. Does the site exist to promote journalistic values—the press freedoms at the core of the American experience—or does it exist to create PR for TV shows? A look at the top navigation, a catalogue of CBS news programs, confirms that PR is a deep-rooted value here.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong with CBS promoting its news products on its digital news hub. Sure, broadcast media needs a revenue stream. But giving these links pride of place begs the question: If we’re meant to lament the imminent Death of Journalism, isn’t it reasonable to expect that Journalism might actually exist outside the realm of entertainment?

In fact, only a small portion of the content at cbsnews.com confirms the existence of a proud journalistic tradition.Steamy slide shows don’t count as news—unless it’s actually news to you that America has a burgeoning sexual subculture. Is there news analysis in the traditional sense? Keep scrolling and you’ll find an array of Facebook-like jpeg-and-caption modules indexed by category, like a lack-luster offering to appease discredited gods.

Welcome to the salad bar.
Clearly, if people are unwilling to swim in this ocean of information, it’s due to the fact that, in yet another triumph of Marketing Anxiety, the site tries to be all things to all people. Ironically, CBS News shows little understanding of who these people are and what they want.

People don’t come to a supposed news authority for an all-you-can-eat buffet of information. They’re looking for expertise. After all, “salad bar” news service is available everywhere. You can find it on Oprah, YouTube, Facebook, in blog space or in the 1,000,000+ opt-in “newsletters” used as promotional tools by cause-marketers and cheese-merchants alike.

By refusing to stand for something more substantial, CBS News has equated itself with the lowest common denominator. Seen from this perspective, the issue is hardly the Death of Journalism, rather the Voluntary Abandonment of Journalism.

In my next post, I’ll take a similar look at a few more mainstream news outlets to see just how pervasive these issues have become.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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