NEW YORK: New Yorker media critic and CEO profiler extraordinaire Ken Auletta decried journalism's "market-driven bias" in a speech to an appreciative crowd of PR professionals at the PRSA international conference today.
Auletta has sat in on months of New York Times editorial meetings, spent ten days living in Rupert Murdoch's office, and tagged along with the unpredictable Ted Turner in the quest for the personality-driven stories that he has been filing under "Annals of Communications" for the New Yorker for the past eleven years.
But he fears that his fellow journalists are increasingly drawn into infotainment-style action stories that patronize readers and cost the entire profession its credibility. The lack of substance in media, he said, is compounded by the uncomfortable relationship between the boardroom and the newsroom, characterized by a lack of understanding on both sides.
"[Corporate media owners] look upon journalists as aliens," Auletta said, contrasting the hurry-up-and-wait nature of reporting with the breakneck speed of business. The press is biased not for politics, but for conflict, he said; "For sizzle, for wow, for keeping the audience entertained, for scoops."
Auletta offered the example of former Times editor Howell Raines: "He was so on top of the world that his feet left the ground."
In order to practice quality reporting in the age of big media, Auletta advised business and journalism to find a common lingo - a goal that can be facilitated by good PR. Reporters can sell the concept of substantive stories to executives as a move to strengthen their brand. The bosses, in turn, must learn not to inject business ideals into the news process. As Auletta pointed out, journalists "often see 'synergy' as a form of shilling."
The current media environment pits huge corporate conglomerates against millions of tiny outlets that are exploding with the help of the Internet. Auletta said the outcome of the battle would determine the future of journalism. Auletta hasn't decided who will win.
"I don't know," he said. "I accept complexity."