Newsweek's Dickey: Is This a New Age of "Yellow Journalism"?

November 23rd, 2005 3:31 PM

In his new web column, Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor Christopher Dickey writes about his dinner last Sunday with former Time White House columnist Hugh Sidey, who suffered a fatal heart attack the next day. Unfortunately, Dickey spoils his reminiscence of his friend with a lament/rant concerning the good old days when the liberal establishment media had the field all to themselves (emphasis added) :  

For most of Hugh’s career, well into the 1980s, small-town newspapers told people what local editors thought they needed to know, and a handful of national media gave them what the press barons thought they ought to know.  You could count the important national media on your fingers: Time and NEWSWEEK, The New York Times and to a lesser extent the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, AP, UPI, plus the three major broadcast networks—that was it. This could have been a terrible system, but in retrospect it seems a benevolent oligarchy. These media were not oblivious to market forces, but neither were they compelled to pander to them. They felt a duty to cover Washington politics, major economic issues and foreign news in considerable detail, even if only a fraction of their readers ever got past the headlines. They could dare to be boring, if that’s what it took to be responsible.

No longer. While so-called “news outlets” have multiplied—with hundreds on satellite television, millions on the Internet—the actual inputs have been cut back dramatically as formal news gathering organizations slash their budgets and decimate their staffs. Competition is all about building market share and the bottom line, not some intangible notion of prestige or civic duty. The result is like a return to the days of yellow journalism at the end of the 19th century, when paper was cheap and reporting cheaper. Competition for market share in those days led to violent sensationalism, narrow-minded jingoism—and war. No need to belabor the parallels.