The State Of The Media

The news media have their share of critics, but according to a /New York Times poll, most Americans have at least some confidence in the media.

More than two out of three believe the stories the media report are accurate.

In our final report in our State of the Union-week series, CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason reports on the state of the media.

For more than 40 years, Helen Thomas has covered the White House, now as a columnist for Hearst newspapers. These days, when she asks tough questions, it's not just the White House press secretaries who come after her.

"I understand your strong opinions clearly. I'm not sure the American people agree with you," former press secretary Ari Fleisher once told her.

It's her readers, too. In e-mail and on the Internet, today everyone's a media critic.

"I suppose that's democracy really. But everybody with a laptop thinks they're a journalist these days. That's a problem," Thomas says.

The state of the media is in sweeping transformation. The giants which controlled the TV studios and the printing presses used to control the distribution of news. But the Internet has changed all that.

When CBS News, in a report on 60 minutes II, used disputed documents, bloggers quickly exposed them – and as the blogosphere has exploded, its audience has grown to more than 30 million readers.

Jeff Jarvis, a former newspaper and magazine editor, now acts as a media watchdog on his blog, buzzmachine.com.

Does he find himself getting mad at the big media he used to be part of?

"Not mad," says Jarvis. "Just sometimes disappointed."

Jarvis says news is not a lecture anymore.

"We think the news is done when we finish up the story in print or broadcast. But it's not. That's when the public who knows more than we do, comes back with questions and responses and perspective," he says.

Last month, the Wisconsin State Journal opened an unusual dialogue with its readers, inviting them, in a daily Internet poll, to pick one story to put on the front page.

"We believe that is our job to give readers what, not only what they need, but what they want," says Ellen Foley, the paper's editor in chief. "And it is our best hope that we can create a community conversation. Without community conversation, we're Baghdad. And we're very much in favor of the future of democracy."

As one recent study concluded – the era of "trust me" journalism has passed. The era of "show me" journalism has begun.
  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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