In 2006, the media and consumer watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a report titled “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed,” which found that over a 10-month period 77 broadcast stations and cable outlets ran 98 separate instances of 36 VNRs, without disclosing to viewers that these were video press releases rather than journalism independently created by local news teams.

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“Full-time, professional journalists have less time… to challenge officials… to investigate powerful institutions”

“Information Needs of Communities,” page 55:

As newsrooms have shrunk, the job of the remaining reporters has changed. They typically face rolling deadlines as they post to their newspaper’s website before, and after, writing print stories. Some are required to blog and tweet as well, some to produce videos. The good news is, they can write shorter, more focused stories for the print edition of the paper and provide longer, more detailed versions online that can be enhanced and updated as events progress. However, these additional responsibilities—and having to learn the new technologies to execute them—are time-consuming, and come at a cost. In many newsrooms, old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting—the kind where a reporter goes into the streets and talks to people or probes a government official—has been sometimes replaced by Internet searches.

Newspapers have tried to become more like the new medium—emphasizing speed and dissemination through multiple platforms. But that drive can take a toll on quality. In an article in the Columbia Journalism Review in the fall of 2010, Dean Starkman likened newspaper reporters to hamsters on a wheel:

The hamster wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The hamster wheel is volume without thought. it is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no… . But it’s more than just mindless volume. it’s a recalibration of the news calculus. Of the factors that affect the reporting of news, an under-appreciated one is the risk/reward calculation that all professional reporters make when confronted with a story idea: how much time versus how much impact?

This informal vetting system is surprisingly ruthless and ultimately efficient for one and all. The more time invested, the bigger the risk, but also the greater potential glory for the reporter, and the greater value to the public (can’t forget them!). Do you fly to Chicago to talk to that guy about that thing? Do you read that bankruptcy examiner’s report? Or do you do three things that are easier?


Journalists will tell you that where once newsroom incentives rewarded more deeply reported stories, now incentives skew toward work that can be turned around quickly and generate a bump in Web traffic… .“none of this is written down anywhere, but it’s real. The hamster wheel, then, is investigations you will never see, good work left undone, public service not performed.

“Information Needs of Communities,” page 44:

Who suffers from the lack of court coverage? Often, those who most need someone to look out for them. Consider child welfare cases. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Detroit Free Press had a full-time beat reporter, Jack Kresnack, covering family courts. His pieces about the child abuse death of a boy at the hands of his parents led to changes in guardianship laws; his series about the murder of a child by his foster parents led to criminal charges. But Kresnack left in 2007 and has not been replaced.133 In Michigan, coverage of juvenile and family courts has become “smaller and smaller over the years,” according to Vivek Sankaran, director of the new Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.134 Without scrutiny, he says, mistakes are made that have a life-changing impact: “Parents whose rights are terminated who shouldn’t be terminated,” he says. “It’s that type of story. It just takes somebody to go down there to get the story, but nobody is ever down there.”

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“Only 23 states have reporters in Washington, DC”

“Information Needs of Communities,” page 54:

Steven Waldman was senior advisor to the Chairman of the FCC and principal author of its report on the changing media landscape. He was chair of the Council on Foundations Working Group on Nonprofit Media and is a consultant to the Pew Research Center. Before that, he was the founder of Beliefnet.com and a national correspondent for Newsweek.