Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Note to Houston newsies: Look inward for your fix.

You can't write about this: Between Oscars and Yahoo! a bad week for women, Kyrie O'Connor, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

and then expect us to take you seriously when the "features" department you oversaw (and built) from 2003 - 2012 produces this on a regular basis:

You can't write about this: 5 reasons we must keep BangWithFriends.com alive. Casey Michel, Houston Press

and then expect us to take seriously your writings with (intentionally?) inflammatory headlines like this:
HISD to offer free dinners to anyone under 18, whether illegal or not. Casey Michel, Houston Press

And therein lies the problem with Houston's present day media.

The Press, is a mess.  I'd argue that they're no longer a news gathering organization and are just a loose collection of freelance bloggers publishing anything they can find in the name of page hits.  Occasionally they might turn out something worthwhile, but very rarely.  Then, when they do, you look back at all of the stuff the author's written and you say "bah, they don't know what they're talking about anyway." 

Both the Chron and the Press lose all credibility on women's issues because of (shocker!) how they portray women.

While figuring the Press was fairly straight forward, the Chron is slightly more nuanced.  It took me a while to figure out exactly where they were trying to go.

At first, I thought they were trying to be a low-rent London Times. Of course, without the good news content and meaningful analysis.  First, they put some stuff behind a paywall, like the Times, and then, they made the pay site rather bland (again, like the Times), what was missing behind the Chron's paywall was meaningful content, whereas the Times has put pretty much everything behind the shield.  In contrast, the Chron has hidden AP wire reports, a few public interest stories, two c-list local political columnists, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Lisa Falkenberg from public view.  For this we should thank them.

It was only recently that I figured out what they were really going for, ChronBlog wants desperately to become The Daily Mail.

More breathy than newsy, the Daily Mail is the perfect mixture of supermarket tabloid magazine and splashy, sensationalist newsy reporting more designed to tug at the heart strings than present the facts in any case.  In many ways the Chron is trolling right down that same path choosing to frame stories designed to enrage (and bring on page views) rather than inform.  Oh, and then there's the whole We're all gonna DIE!!!! hysteria that's been coming from the Apple Dumpling Gang of late.  They wave the flag and cheer about one Billion page hits and 50 thousand twitter followers while ignoring Billions of dollars in local, public entity spending and thousands of stories that should be told.

The people want news, the Chron gives them Requiem for a make-out bar.  The problem is that this story bemoaning the demise of Houston's former Pantheon of public sex will be followed up with an eventual tut-tutting about where Texas ranks on some listing of children born out of wed-lock.  I'm not suggesting that Marfreless added to the population, but I am suggesting that glorifying casual sex does.  It's OK to write a story about a local institution closing, but an entire editorial, which glorifies the bar's "sleazy secret?" Forgive us if we don't get all worked up the next time you decide to lecture us on how we're failing as a society.

The problem is that we still need news, there still needs to be an outlet to provide news and as a society we still haven't figured out what's going to come after.  What's the next big thing?  Even the Texas Legislature is trying to figure that out as they debate where polling locations should be published now that no one is looking for them in the dead-tree editions of their former newspapers of record.  It's a real problem. A problem whose only answer, to date, seems to be to rely on Newsish non-profits and the websites of the newspapers that let us down in the first place.  Either that, or TV news, which is worse for numerous reasons.

Nope, the answer is for today's media organizations to understand what's wrong internally, either that or just give it up and leave the news game altogether.  This middle ground approach is failing miserably.

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