In today’s LA Times, media columnist Tim Rutten discusses the Anna Nicole Smith frenzy and its somewhat dismal implications for journalism’s more honorable traditions in a digital era. Key quote:
Television ratings or aggregated “hits” on newspaper websites constitute useful marketing information. When they’re transmuted into editorial tools, what you get is a kind of faux-empiricism that can create a false but nearly irresistible authority. It’s that most misleading of commodities, information without context. It is data, but not necessarily information, that you can use because you understand the data. In the case of these accumulations of online hits, it is hard to know what you’re measuring beyond a 24-hour fad or the inclinations of obsessive people with too much time on their hands. Standing on the cusp of this inevitable transformation, it’s a good moment for American newspapers to take a reflective breath to consider just how they want to play this numbers game — or, more important, whether they want to play it at all.
Which prompted Boston media critic and professor Dan Kennedy to observe:
Newspaper editors — the good ones, anyway — have traditionally aspired to something better. Unfortunately, being able to measure reader interest is going to make it harder to resist the urge to pander.
Uncharted waters ahead. Will we get irretrievably lost?