What’s popular isn’t always what is important

■  BY MARCY SHORTUSE

I watched a very interesting piece on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently regarding the fast-paced demise of print news. It’s essentially the breakdown of what we are inundated with every day when we turn on the television or social media on our computer … it’s what people now call the news.

Every day we rotate the news channels in our living room at home. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, RT, we watch them all. But sometimes you have to squint closely at the bottom corner icon to see which one of them you’re watching, because they’re all reporting the same news. The same news about the same two people, most often. Wars are being fought, floodwaters are raging, government land deals with big oil, but you would never know it because … well … Donald and Hillary.

In this piece, John was talking about how print ads are becoming less and less popular than they used to be, which means that newspapers are becoming smaller and smaller, and sometimes are fading into history altogether.

Oliver reported that while between 2004 and 2014 newspapers gained $2 billion in advertising revenue, they lost $30 billion in print revenue. “That’s like finding a lucky penny on the sidewalk on the same day your bank account is drained by a 16-year-old Belgian hacker,” he said, quite aptly.

Everyone is being driven to believe that getting all of the news online is where it’s at, because it’s free. You can, as Oliver said, get all the news online for free while sitting in your apartment pirating the downstairs cafe’s Internet signal. All free, all the time.

But does that make it quality news? Does that mean it’s just as reliable as reading your local newspaper? I hate to break it to you all, but Snopes is not the end-all and be-all of newsgathering. Neither is Breitbart. Neither is StormCloudsGathering or The Drudge Report. Right now it’s safe to doubt the integrity of pretty much any singular news source. Maybe if you hear it from four major media outlets, it might be true? That’s pretty sad.

Oliver also pointed out the irony of local media’s downfall. Without local news sources running local stories in their local newspapers, mass-marketed media outlets will be running around like chickens with their heads cut off. If you actually find a news hour on any of the major news networks – and I mean a time when many pieces of news about many things are being reported – listen for how many times the news anchor says, “According to the Washington Post …” or “According to the Chicago Tribune …”

Much of the real news they get is parroted from local news sources, with attribution of course, and some minor changes at times. Just very minor; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain with the red pen.

Remember Sam the toll man? Good old Sam took the worldwide news stage during that week when he and GIBA had a difference of opinion, which ultimately led to his no longer having that job. His family took his story to the Englewood paper and to us, and within three days I had reporters from London calling me to tell them the story. How would they have known about that without local print media? There is so much news that would be missed if local print newspapers were to all fall by the wayside in favor of a handful of mass-marketed, fluffy glitter blown in your face by an 85-year-old Cirque du Soleil performer wearing a thong (again, John Oliver’s words).

Kitties? YES! Many clicks! Dancing monkeys? Absolutely! Click click!

Government corruption? Meh. Not so much.

As Oliver said, the media is truly a food chain that would fall apart without local news. Lots of kitties, lots of monkeys, lots of Hill/Donald name-calling and mud-slinging, maybe a story on who Donald’s barber is and the story behind what’s with that hair statement, possibly one about how much Hillary’s coat cost and how many Bosnian children could be fed from that amount … but not so much as far as news.

Our bigger newspapers have experienced a 35 percent decline in full-time political reporters in the last 10 years. Having fewer people paying attention to our politicians and their actions is like, as Oliver accurately stated, “a teacher leaving her seventh grade class to supervise themselves. Best-case scenario, Brittney gets gum in her hair. Worst-case scenario? You no longer have a school.”

Oliver played a video clip during his piece that showed David Simon (who was with the Baltimore Sun for a long time and is the founder of the television show, “The Wire”) talking about the lack of balance between mainstream media and local journalism. This is where you begin to see the real scope of what is happening.

He said, “The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing is the day I will be confident we have achieved some kind of equilibrium. There’s no glory in that kind of journalism, but it is the bedrock … The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be halcyon days for state and federal corrupt politicians. I almost envy them.”

When it was announced that The Oregonian was splitting into two entities – including print media and digital media – people were shocked. If that iconic newspaper was flopping in its death throes like a fish on the dock, aren’t all print media sources doomed?

In large part, yes. Because “Bat Boy Found in Cave” and pretty kitty pieces are all about the clicks on social media. Stories about corruption within government ranks only appeal to a few clickers. But, as Oliver said in his piece, what’s popular isn’t always what’s most important. They can cram glitter down our throats like we’re an abused goose, but sooner or later, if we don’t pay for real journalism, we will really pay for it.

You can watch the clip on Youtube at https://youtu.be/bq2_wSsDwkQ. But please, send Oliver a nickel for his royalties. We all
gotta eat.

Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon