Ed Driscoll

Fly The Friendly Skies Of Old Media

Mark Steyn explores the myriad of ways that America’s legacy media provides full service journalism to those politicians in the same party as those in the media. John Edwards gets to “Keep Rockin'”, as Tony Pierce of the L.A. Times Orwellianly put it last year when he advised his writers not report on his affair, and President Obama’s recent trip to the burger joint is big news — and all the president’s newsmen even happily airbrushed its more unseemly details as well. Here’s Steyn:

In 1939, President and Mrs. Roosevelt hosted King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Hyde Park in upstate New York. Their Majesties had come down from Ottawa, accompanied by Mackenzie King, because, technically, they were visiting the U.S. in their capacity as King and Queen of Canada. Which is an arcane Commonwealth constitutional point of no interest to Americans, naturally. Instead, the point of local interest was that FDR served Their Majesties hot dogs, and much was made of the fact that this was the first time the Royal Family had ever eaten this quintessentially American delicacy. From the radio reports, it sounds like the first time for the Roosevelts, too: when Eleanor says, “Your Majesty, here is your hot dog,” she puts the emphasis on the “dog” rather than the “hot,” as if to distinguish it from a hot goat or hot mongoose. Appearing on the Rush Limbaugh Show last week, I made the observation that it had taken 70 years for American public life to turn up a fast-food photo op of similar absurdity, only now the media were marvelling not that a foreign king was passing among them and eating as ordinary mortals do but that their own citizen-president was. That’s not, to my mind, progress.

The blogger Mickey Kaus likes to distinguish between the news and the “under-news.” The “news” is what you get from your bland monodaily or your incontinence-pad-sponsored network news show; the “under-news” is what’s bubbling out there on the Internet. I can see why Obama, Edwards and others value the king-rode-in-the-park model. But it’s not clear what’s in it for America’s failing newspapers. If you’re conservative, you don’t read them because they’re biased. If you’re an informed leftie, you don’t read them because they don’t have the gleeful partisan brio of the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post. And, if you’re apolitical, you don’t read them because they’re just incredibly boring.

Throughout the ‘d’90s, from O.J. to Monica, the ethics bores of America’s journalism schools bemoaned at the drop of a New York Times commission the media’s “descent into tabloidization.” A decade on, American newspapers are dying. Really dying, I mean; not just having a spot of difficulty negotiating the transition from one distribution system to another, which is the problem faced by British, Australian, Canadian and other newspaper markets. But better to be the dead parrot’s cage liner, than the actual parrot. Which would you say was more responsible for the death of American newspapering? The “descent into tabloidization”? Or the dreary monarchical deference of American liberalism’s insipid J-school courtiers? The king rode in the park. He was riding his videographer in the shrubbery, but you don’t need to know that.

“Keep rockin,” Tony Pierce advises his writers. Why not start rockin’? Tony sounds such a cool guy, he knows all the hepcat lingo. What a shame his newspaper isn’t as groovily written as his memos. Which may be why the Los Angeles Times’ parent company has had to file for bankruptcy protection. If this crate’s a-rockin’, it’s because Tony and his chums drove it over a cliff and it’s bouncin’ on the way down.

And the public is well aware they’re being hosed. How bad has it gotten? This bad:

The American Customer Satisfaction Index–ACSI from here on down–tracks customer satisfaction across a wide range of industries and has done so since 1994. Each quarter it surveys consumers to come up with what they call a “satisfaction index” by assigning scores to key business sectors, and in many cases companies within these sectors, on a scale of 1 to 100.

The first quarter ’09 Satisfaction Index data is out and can be seen in its entirety here. How did newspapers do?

Not good. In fact, really not good. In the first quarter of ’09, newspaper customers’ satisfaction rating was 63. To put this in some perspective, those surveyed expressed a greater deal of satisfaction with airlines (airlines!) which scored 64. And cell phone providers (cell phone providers?) which score a 69.

(The most-satisfactory segment, per the survey? Full-service restaurants, which notched an ACSI rating of 84. Comfort food and comfort rituals for uncomfortable times.)

That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is how badly newspapers’ ACSI score has slipped since the surveys began plumbing consumer sentiment. It’s off 12.5% since the survey’s debut in 1994.

This marks the steepest “satisfaction” drop of any industry in this quarter’s survey.

Anyone want to hazard a guess why newspapers’ scores have dropped so far?

So everyone who hates flying (I know I do) take heart. It’s better than reading a newspaper.

(Via The Anchoress.)