Why is News Such a Unique Category of Content?

Now that the moratorium on new media has been lifted, some say that it’s time to start talking about the New York City subway system and its impending shutdown. While we may never know how or why it will shut down again, we do know that the mass transit system is in a crisis that can no longer be ignored. A recent study found that the combined impact of a lack of federal funding and fare hikes would be more than enough to force the city into a full closure. But that may only happen if the city council and the mayor can’t come to an agreement on a long-term budget for the city. After all, we’re only three months away.

So, how do you make news in today’s world? News reporting is one of the few industries that have somehow remained unaffected by the economic recession, at least so far. While there was a noticeable dip in print journalism right before the recession started, there’s actually no clear indication that the industry is dying, just that it’s not growing as rapidly as it did during the good times. Perhaps a better question to ask is how many people read their local newspapers anymore:

With the ban on new media the other day, there was a strange backlinking trend in online news stories, especially to blogs. Some people even made a sort of pilgrimage to their favorite blogs to read the news from their home computers. There was, however, a strange number of stories that were clearly newsworthy but which were poorly written, poorly sourced or both: articles complaining about the poor state of America’s roadways, a profile on the bizarre life of circus clown Elvis Presley and an article about the troubled life of a British model who was married to Princess Diana. It seems that the editorial standards of most mainstream newsrooms have fallen to an all-time low.

Could this be a symptom of the end of news as we know it? Is it the end of the news manual, or simply the decline in interest in long-form reporting? There’s little question that the quality of recent reporting has slipped, particularly on radio and television. (If you haven’t been keeping up, you’ve probably missed a few of your favorite TV shows over the years.) But is this the fault of the listeners, or the news editors?

Some may argue that any decline in news interest is a good thing, if it means that listeners now have more diverse sources for stories that they may enjoy. This would seem to be the case in many fields, where information has been steadily trickling down from the larger cultural and news outlets to the smaller, more personal blogs, Web sites and bulletin boards throughout the society. This sort of communication certainly helps to keep people informed, but some argue that this type of information is just too informal and self-indulgent for the consuming public. Many people may argue that this decline in news stories makes many people less informed about current events, which affects their ability to participate meaningfully in civic dialogue and debate.

Regardless of whether or not this decline in news interest is a result of listeners shunning long form reporting, it does appear that the listeners are making a choice to move away from the formalities of print and toward the informal conversational format. This could mean that many media professionals are making an important decision about the nature of their medium, and it may also mean that the days of “all news is bad” may be drawing to a close. It’s a big world with many different cultures, and the evolution of new media will continue to make news value more important than ever before.