THE BLOG
12/05/2013 08:12 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2014

Journalism's Epic Fail

There is something disturbing happening at America's news gathering institutions that I believe will cause deep and lasting damage to our country, its economy and its civil defense. And, no. I don't mean all the lying at 60 Minutes over Benghazi.

What I'm referring to is the increasing and steady decline of news gathering which is making all of us more stupid.

Here. I looked up "gathering." These are a few definitions:

  • To cause to come together; convene
  • To accumulate (something) gradually; amass:
  • To gain by a process of gradual increase
  • To collect by making a selection

Unfortunately for those of us who want to be informed -- and less stupid -- about issues that matter, who want facts and unbiased information, news organizations that live on the Web (as opposed to the broadcast news organizations) seem to have gotten away from the business of "gathering" to focus mostly on just "telling" their readers about a bunch of other stuff they read someplace else on the Internet.

"Gathering" requires gradual accumulation, it's active, I don't think "gathering" is something you can do from the prone or seated position behind a desk while you're playing Candy Crush on your iPhone. "Gathering" is something you do while standing on your feet, mostly. You also might be hunched over, for instance, if you're gathering strawberries. Dan Rather was a news gatherer. Which reminds me, "gathering" requires going outside. Getting your hands dirty. Being some place you don't belong. Oh, and you might want to bring a Burberry trench coat.

Moving on.

You see, I've been thinking a lot about what passes for news, what gets reported, and how committed big corporations who fund news gathering organizations are to keeping Americans informed. I thought a good metric would be to find out what kind of stories the big news organizations are covering and compare them to the stories they used to report. And right out of the gate, I ran into some trouble.

I started at Slate.com. And well, Slate does not appear to have a search engine on their site. At least, I couldn't find it. I wanted to search for stories going back five years that had either "Facebook" or "Twitter" in their title, my assumption being that those stories are really easy to write -- and if you're writing more of those, you're likely writing less of something else. After all, to write a story about Twitter or Facebook, you just turn on your computer -- and you don''t even have to be at your desk. You can do it on your phone, while you're in the car. Even driving.

(Note: To those of you who might suggest that more reporting of Internet stories could also mean that the news gathering organizations have dedicated more money and hired more reporters to cover that beat, I say: Very funny!)

After Slate.com, I went to TheAtlantic.com. And while they have a search engine, it doesn't appear to just search the Atlantic's website. Either that, or The Atlantic has written 49,000 stories about Twitter.

Next, I tried the search engine at the New York Times. Sadly, I encountered essentially the same problem as I did at Slate. It's almost as if these news sites don't want just some random guy with a laptop, Wi-Fi, 11 Emmy loses and a couple of free hours on a Wednesday afternoon to meticulously chart their choice of story coverage and demonstrate how things used to be good, and how now they suck. Hey! Wait a minute.

Fortunately, Salon.com didn't get the memo about complicating a search of their archives in order to prevent me from shaming them into doing more news gathering.

2013-12-04-Twitterchart.001.jpg

Above, you'll see the number of stories the website Salon.com has done over the last five years with either the words "Twitter" or "Facebook" in the headline. In 2009, Salon did just three Twitter stories. In 2011, they did eight Twitter stories. So far, in 2013, they've done 58.

Their coverage of "Facebook" is nearly identical.

Yes. Some of those stories were about the Twitter IPO, which is genuinely news, but only four of them. Here's a sample of the other 54:

  1. Ashton Kutcher vs Wal-Mart: Epic Twitter Clash
  2. Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's Epic Twitter Battle
  3. Twitter Slams Oscar Host Seth McFarlane
  4. Chuck Woolery's Twitter Meltdown Over Islam
  5. Ashton Kutcher's Massive Twitter Fail
  6. Could Twitter Have Prevented The Iraq War?
  7. Kanye West Joins Twitter
  8. John Mayer Dumps Twitter

My intuition tells me that if we compared the stories from other Web-based news gathering organizations, we would see results similar to Salon. Those results indicating a steady decline in news gathering and a steady increase in "telling" about some stuff they read on the Web. Or, in Salon's vernacular: 'Journalism's Epic Fail'

However, my intuition isn't fact. At least not yet. So, now that I've now done my part, I'd like to suggest that it's your turn. It's your turn to find some facts about news coverage and share them with everyone. Maybe you have access to Lexis Nexis and can do a better search, a search with finer parameters and search terms. Better yet, don't take instruction from me -- after all, I lost at the Emmys 11 times. Rather, figure out what you want to know and find the answer.

If you are as interested in truth and unbiased facts as I am, let's stay in touch. You can reach me here.

Jon Hotchkiss is the creator of the new 6-hour science series, This vs That.