Does Quality Matter?

It’s a question that no one wants to ask or answer, it seems. As journalism organizations scale back their operations, they’re looking more and more to “contributed” material to fill space and time. What’s the result? Well, aside from all sorts of ethical problems, the technical quality tends to be pretty bad, too.

Of course, this quote from a New York Daily News piece makes me scratch my head and think we really are looking at the lowest-common-denominator when we publish now:

One local insider says stations are pushing low-quality video to get a “techy look” and lure younger viewers weaned on YouTube.

Do news executives really think younger viewers are out there saying, “Dude, I’d watch TV news if only it looked like junk.”

A “techy look?” Out of focus, underexposed and low-resolution is “techy?” The New York Times has an article up today on how we are now acclimating to lower quality sound and includes this comment:

In fact, among younger listeners, the lower-quality sound might actually be preferred. Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, said he had conducted an informal study among his students and found that, over the roughly seven years of the study, an increasing number of them preferred the sound of files with less data over the high-fidelity recordings.

“I think our human ears are fickle. What’s considered good or bad sound changes over time,” Mr. Berger said. “Abnormality can become a feature.”

Now I like my iPod as much as the next guy, but when I want to listen to music, I pull out the CD and crank up my Polk speakers to a suitable volume. But I know I’m in the minority when I do that. (And, to be honest, while my speakers rock my receiver is pretty lousy. I miss my ancient Proton D540 – that thing was sweet.)

So what does this mean? Tomorrow, I start teaching a three week Maymester course on video journalism. I have nine high definition video camera kits which I’ve used in the past. Should I give up and let them shoot on a bunch of Flip-style cameras? Or use the video function on their point and shoot cameras? Cell phones, for those enabled?


No, I don’t think that’s the right route to go. I think the idea of low-quality being “techy” is just absurd. We are professionals. We are professional storytellers. We use professional tools because it allows us to tell stories clearly and in a controlled manner. We need to separate quality journalism from amateur work because it reinforces the idea that that we are professionals, that we have set standards because we believe this is important and that we will do this well today, that we will do it well tomorrow and that we will continue to do it well because we are professionals.

Mark E. Johnson

1 Response

  1. Hmmmmm. I think what’s become clear is that the general public prefers CONVENIENCE over quality. But I don’t think that equates to preferring low quality over high quality. However, I think the idea of “quality” is fluid and mutable.

    I’ve witnessed a similar phenomena. I’ve seen more than a couple of people – used to fast food, chain restaurants, and microwavable home dinners – when given the opportunity to taste real, fresh, artfully prepared, gourmet food, complain that there was too much flavor. TOO MUCH FLAVOR! I swear, those were the exact words, and I’ve heard it more than once.

    The masses often find comfort in what they are used to, even if it’s junk.

    I think our eyes and ears have been virtually dumbed-down after getting used to viewing photographs and listening to music on low-resolution devices. The way human eyes and brains work together is both amazing and peculiar. When information is missing, the brain fills in the blanks. The eye automatically corrects for certain color casts. Eyes are simply used to viewing photographs on computer screens, televisions, and mobile devices, and they don’t miss all those pixels and colors thrown out in the process of interpolation unless they have something to compare side-by-side.

    In my own experience, I think people gravitate towards quality – as long as the experience is easily accessible. I think the trend towards lower quality equipment and presentation in the news industry is more a matter of corporate-types looking for ways to cut costs and then justifying it as something more than it really is. It’s a bunch of short-sighted BUNK! Eventually, the public will resent the fact that their “professional” journalists are producing the same quality content as Joe Blogger. Heck, sometimes Joe Blogger has better equipment than some of the junk newsrooms are placing in the hands of their professional journalists.

    It’s the same old story. News media execs bemoan the fact that audiences are abandoning their products, yet they give them less and less incentive to view their content. I’m afraid that the future of journalism – REAL journalism that serves the public interest – will be in the entrepreneurship of REAL journalists.

    Mass media is rife with the same corporate leadership that’s plaguing the financial market and other industries. The public welfare, and potentially democracy itself, is at stake, I’m afraid.

    Pathocracy leads to idiocracy. Google that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment