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10 Ugly truths about modern journalism

1. The stories that are published are the stories that sell

The reason you’re more likely to read about a shooting spree than a library opening is because with dwindling resources, broadcasters and print publications must devote their time to stories that will grab the most attention. Hyperlocal sites like EveryBlock have stepped up to fill the void, but the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” has never been truer.

2. Many stories are not copy edited

In the age of layoffs and buyouts, many of the first people to go in the newsroom are the copy editors, the people ensure that published stories are accurate and well-written. Without copy editors, many stories, especially those that appear online, are being published without first being checked for spelling and grammar. These errors are becoming even more frequent and are a mark of credibility against the news outlet.

3. Many stories come from wire services

Years ago, newspapers were brimming with stories written by staff reporters about national and international issues. As these reporters are being downsized, more of the national stories that appear in the local paper are written by wire services like Reuters and the Associated Press, meaning a lack of diverse voices covering any given issue.

4. Some journalists are driven by awards

The great majority of journalists gravitate to the profession to spread the news to as many people as possible and enlighten the communities they cover. There are also some journalists who write stories not for readers, but with the intent of winning big name awards like Pulitzers and Emmys. Though they may not openly admit it, some stories are written to gain the adoration of other journalists rather than to empower readers.

5. Journalists are biased

There is no such thing as unbiased…it is humanly impossible. While journalists often strive to make sure their stories are as unbiased as possible, many cover particular subjects or issues because they feel particularly strong about them.

6. Some journalists use Wikipedia

Although the use of Wikipedia is frowned upon in many newsrooms because of its perceived unreliability, many reporters do use the wiki as a source and unverified facts that appear on the site sometimes make their way into news stories. Such was the case with the obituary of French composer Maurice Jarre. Many newspapers published a quote found on his Wikipedia page that was never uttered by Jarre himself, but was added to the page by a then 22-year-old university student.

7. There is no big conspiracy

Not so much an ugly truth, but a truth some refuse to accept. There are a growing number of critics who decry the media for collectively and intentionally pushing either the liberal or conservative agenda (which agenda depends on who you ask). The truth is such a coordinated effort does not exist and most publications are made up of individual journalists with a wide of variety of interests and (you guessed it) political leanings.

8. Many journalists have side projects

In the golden age of journalism, reporters could dedicate themselves exclusively to their work in the newsroom when there was no fear of being sudden layoffs. But when a pink slip could come at a moment’s notice and paychecks are becoming increasingly smaller, many more journalists are writing books, creating blogs, consulting, and anything that can build their personal brand or bring in a few extra dollars.

9. Entertainment stories rule

When journalists lament the “death” of journalism, they are often referring to the big investigative pieces that expose politicians and bring to light previously uncovered issues. The reality is, the most popular stories on news sites are often not investigative pieces, but entertainment stories and celebrity news. Paris Hilton can often drive more traffic than the president.

10. No one has the answers

Everyone is looking for the savior of journalism and the solution to the industry’s problems. Social networking, paywalls, restructuring and micropayments have all been suggested as the key to saving journalism, but anyone who says they have a definite answer is delusional or misinformed. Together we will try to do everything to ensure journalism’s future, but what exactly that magic solution is remains to be seen.


Also on 10,000 Words:

10 Reasons why online news sites suck
10 Things I wish they’d told me in J-School
25 Things I’ve Learned About Journalism

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