Artisan Marketing Communications offers clients PR and marketing communications advice, practical support and implementation.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Dumber and Dumber – The demise of intelligent news media

Is it me? Am I getting more intelligent or is the news media dumbing down markedly?

Well I think the first accusation would not get as many supporters as I would like outside my immediate family and a few friends. So the second assertion must have more weight.

I am not focussing my wrath, such as it is to be feared, on popular culture: Big Brother, X Factor and the very pinnacle of subjects for dumbing down column inches - the inimitable (thank goodness) Victoria Beckham. I am not interested in the Daily Mail’s constant assertion that our civilisation is coming to an end and standards have slipped. I am not sentimental enough to believe that fear inducing propaganda.

My focus is on newspaper titles rather than our fascination with z-listed personalities. Over the last 20, 25, years newspapers have battled to keep an increasingly disinterested and harder to engage readership. The newspaper fraternity in my area has suffered a loss of readership of about 40% over that time period. A loss that it cannot afford to suffer.

The answer for some newspaper titles has been to water down the standard of writing if not always the subject area.

One example that demonstrates my point is the episode of the Daily Mirror and those Iraqi prisoner abuse images that never were. The campaign against the war, whatever the rights and wrong, was not always primarily argued from an intellectual or moral standpoint. It was opposed by a personalised attack on Tony Blair and sensationalist pictures that were never verified as being genuine.

This approach would have been unthinkable 25 years ago when political thinkers such as Tony Benn and Michael Foot were regular contributors. The readership and emphasis of the paper’s stance was always loyally left wing, but it gave its readers credit for wanting and indeed supplying intelligent debate.

How much of this situation is owing to changes in our culture? Are papers, like marketers, simply supplying what buyers want? How much is it that newspapers and the general media have changed culture and so altered want we desire? And I have not forgotten the advent of new technologies. 25 years ago no paper had to compete with so many information sources: Internet, interactive television, text, e-mail, podcast, Internet TV etc.

Perhaps popular culture permeates our minds far more easily than it once did because it is easier to transmit. Certainly, when we are all pressed for time and can pick up information so quickly we do not have time to do anything but get the gist of the information unless it is of real importance to us.

I must point out that there are exceptions, so I am describing a trend not a wholesale shift.

It has all been a gradual process and the dumbing down slide has gone past us almost unnoticed.

Perhaps I am being sentimental after all. But it is one reason that I am selective in my paper buying and maybe collectively why the efforts to win us over by dumbing down are backfiring.

Rob Baker works for Artisan Marketing Communications. He is very liberal in outlook and welcomes paying clients from all sectors. Rob welcomes intelligent and occasional dumbed down comments.

This piece will feature in PR Business in July


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