Lack of Educated Readers Kills Journalism

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By David M. Bresnahan

We have no one to blame for the demise of “traditional” journalism other than ourselves.  (I think Pogo would agree.) Educated readers can save journalism and prevent it from inevitable collapse, but as the number of educated readers continues to decline it seems that journalism will not survive.

There really is no difference between print, broadcast, or online journalism in terms of what it is supposed to be. Journalism through any media outlet is the reporting of facts to the public. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public who cannot attend every event, every political meeting, every incident, or research every topic of interest.

Journalists exist to keep the public informed, and their job remains the same regardless of the method of news delivery.

However, journalists cannot convey information to an audience that is insufficiently educated to understand the news, nor can they inform a public that is so poorly educated that they cannot even read the news. Too many people just do not understand the world around them and consequently make the statement that they do not read or watch the news because it is boring, or that they just do not care.

The total number of high school dropouts in the United States is high, and even more disturbing is the inability of a high percentage of those who do graduate to actually read and write at a functional level. The vast majority of the adult population do not read even one book, magazine, or newspaper (print or online) in the course of an entire year.

Hence the media outlets are catering to their uneducated, uninformed audience with visual media sources that are designed to appeal to emotion rather than stimulate rational thought. Special interest groups, politicians, and marketing gurus are taking advantage of this trend and manipulating the media so that they can use the media to manipulate the public. They do it with emotional messages, not with facts, reason, or logic.

It seems like yesterday, but it was actually 14 years ago when I began working as an investigative journalist for the first online newspaper. Journalist and media friends laughed at me and said that people want to hold their news in their hands and an online paper would never catch on. Now today there are thousands of newspapers that publish only online, and the one I worked for gets over a million readers a day from over 100 countries.

The evolution of journalism has continued, and today so-called “citizen journalists” abound through the use of blogs and social networking. Blogs have opened a world of independence for professional journalists who have been tethered by controlling editors and publishers. Untrained, and uneducated bloggers have been able to use blogs as a method of letting their voice be heard, but have struggled to do it in a way that is meaningful.

The distinction between journalists and the general public who blog is that some trained, qualified journalists and/or writers are blogging and have discovered their freedom while many untrained, uneducated “citizen journalists” are not blogging, they are babbling.

Unfortunately, many readers are more often than not caught up in the emotional rants of the babblers and actually give those babblers reason to babble again and again.

Uneducated, uninformed, unskilled, inept citizen journalists would be gone in a flash if it were not for the fact that they have such a large group of uneducated, uninformed, unskilled, inept readers for an audience. Unfortunately that audience is growing.

Education is the solution to the demise of legitimate journalism, and it always has been. All good writers are frustrated by the fact that they have to write to an audience who cannot comprehend what they read, so those writers must dumb down their writing or they will have no audience at all. For many in today’s media, dumbing down means giving the audience emotional titillation rather than real news.

I intend to use my blog, “Column Inch,” to tell it like it is, however I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to using the media to manipulate the public. After all, I am both a journalist and a public relations consultant. Which brings up another significant aspect of this discussion…

The media PAY journalists to provide what their audience wants, not what they need. Consequently, journalists and broadcasters leave behind what they are taught in college and become what their employers are willing to pay for.

Journalists do not have freedom of the press, simply because they do not own the press – they are slaves to it. No wonder bogs have caught on in such a big way. Journalists, and citizens, have finally found their freedom. Now the question is, what will they do with it?

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