I’m beginning to question an assumption I’ve never really articulated, but always held. I’ve long assumed that if you followed the news, the stories behind the headlines would become plain. By reading your newspaper over time, you’d develop a high-level understanding of the issues. You’d have an idea of the characters involved, the dilemmas at hand, the consensus facts, etc. You’ll be armed with the information you need to make decisions on how to advance your society.
Read it through. Yes, reading the NYTimes helped him feel he understood national and international issues, but what he says has a great deal of truth to it, that reading local journalism, even okay local journalism, sometimes by its very nature leaves one feeling -- uninformed. In part he suggests this has to do with the way we tell news stories, and I have to agree. I've watched my own teenagers struggle to make sense of issues by reading my own local or my metro daily papers. We (the royal journalistic we) tell stories in such a way that suggests people already understand the background, which sometimes finds its way at the end of the story, not the beginning where some people need it. And "balance" often results in no real answer to the problem.
Ask people why they like The Daily Show and one thing that often comes up is, it tells the truth. By challenging assumptions, by pointed (and funny) questions, Jon Stewart often gets at truths that the nature of traditional journalism often does not allow.
And this guy is Matt Thompson, a serious news guy tied to Poynter and a major journalism program. His site, Newsless, is worth the read. Take the time to visit. He has an interesting response today to criticism that what he's describing is just bad journalism, not journalism. As he says near the end of today's piece:
What I’m saying is that I think those standards — the benchmarks of success systemic to journalism — are misguided.