Why does web news suck?

by brian d foy

Since I got back the real world I have been reading a lot more news sources than I used to. This RSS stuff is great!

With that, I am reminded that 90% of the stuff out there is crap. Today, an IDG News Service article I read on MacCentral annoys me, but is really just another instance of poor reporting.

I'm not bemoaning about inaccuracies or errors, but omissions of information, intended of not. The article, "U.S. House subcommittee approves spyware bill" by Grant Gross, talks about the "Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY ACT)" before the US House of Representatives. I am interested in this bill because it may make things like the present form of DidTheyReadIt, which I ranted about earlier this week, illegal (and rightfully so, in my opinion). The article neglects to identify the bill by its actual title or number, and it refers to another bill it does not identify at all.

I had to search THOMAS to find this bill because the article does not say which one it is. I did not find it under the reported name, but I did find H.R. 2929, the "Safeguard Against Privacy Invasions Act" which fits all the particulars. I had to search for about five minutes to find it though, without using the words in title the article uses.

So what is going on here? Although the web can have hyperlinks directly to the bill text, even a dumb, print version could benefit from specifically identifying the bill. Is this simply inept journalism? Don't necessarily blame the reporter because other people get to stir the pot too. Or do they not know how to use the web to link to source documents, original sources, and related information?

However, IDG is a news service, which is another big problem with the news on the web (and in print too, actually). Unless you are looking at a newspaper's website, you are probably reading news from only a handful of sources, such as Reuters, Associated Press, and so on. Although I read the story on MacCentral, the same story shows up on ComputerWorld. The news world only looks big because news became a money maker and companies want to wrap their ads around it.

What is the purpose of news? If the service does not intend the news to be as informative as possible, then they do not have much to improve. Nor do they have much to do if they merely want to be titillating. They can give the broad strokes of the story without including the specifics so we get the entertainment without the expectation of action.

It is all useless to think about this, I expect. News services are only good as far as their headlines, in my opinion. They only let me know that there is a story, while the rest is left to the research I usually do not have time for and which I thought was the raison d'etre of reporters anyway.

Useful tip: If you know a bill number before US Congress, it is usually easy to find just by typing it into Google. "H.R. 2929" finds the bill and gives a link, whereas THOMAS sometimes hides the direct link behind a CGI script.


2004-06-17 17:46:20
the solution
I never read news online until Google News. It's all I read now.


2004-06-23 13:18:46
Similar stories...
A reader sent me two links to similar rants:

  1. Bad Journalism, IPv6, and the BBC
  2. http://www.circleid.com/article/375_0_1_0_C