Request for help: US Quality press ?

I’m busy writing an academic paper on blogging, wikis and so on, which will form the basis of my presentation at the forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and as on past occasions, I’m hoping to enlist the help of readers as unpaid research assistants.

I want to compare blogs (or rather plogs) with the mainstream press alternatives, and I’ve started by comparing Australian political blogs with the alternative provided by the quality press, which I say is generally agreed to comprise four newspapers (Age, Australian, Australian Financial Review, and Sydney Morning Herald) [more over the fold]

My question is whether there is a similarly agreed notion of the quality press, applicable to the United States. I read fairly widely, both Internet and print sources, and the only papers I see mentioned regularly are the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and LA Times. Are there others that are similarly taken seriously, or is the whole idea of “quality press” inapplicable given the greater dominance of TV?

<b>Note</b> I imagine most readers will find at least one paper listed above objectionable. I’m going to delete comments bashing particular papers on the grounds of ideological bias, stupid columnists and so on. I’m only interested in whether the paper is taken seriously, either as a source of useful analysis or as a target for criticism.

Rather than attempting the impossible task of assessing the total content contributed by blogs, it’s more useful to look at a restricted field, such as analysis of Australian politics and current affairs. The Australian quality press is generally agreed to comprise four newspapers (Age, Australian, Australian Financial Review, and Sydney Morning Herald) each of which has a daily edition including one or two editorials and three or four opinion columns. The total output of comment and analysis (not counting feature articles) is therefore around 40 articles per week, or about 30 000 words.

Although it’s hard to identify the corresponding set of blogs exactly, there are at least twenty Australian bloggers who maintain an average standard comparable to that of the opinion pages in the quality dailies. This subjective assessment may be supported by the observation that a number of these bloggers are, in fact, regular or occasional contributors of opinion pieces to the quality press. On average, each would post three or four substantial pieces (300 to 500 words) per week, implying an output comparable to that of the quality press.

13 thoughts on “Request for help: US Quality press ?

  1. The Toledo Blade and the Christian Science Monitor get a few mentions too, among the US media.

  2. You could add the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Globe to the quality press roll. The US quality press is applicable alright but it is more important for Americans with a global, rather than national, perspective. It focuses on prestige foreign and economic policy issues which are not interesting to average Americans who are fairly parochial in their interests.
    Tabloids and cable TV seem to be cleaning up on national and provincial affairs.

    The growth in the US of a conservative alternative media (of bloggers, cable TV personas, radio shock jocks, online magazines, thinktanks) that focuse on prestige issues but take a tabloid approach seems to challenge the notion of a quality press with espousing a conventional wisdom.

    Australia has nothing to compare to the US in terms of newsweekly magazines eg compare Time, Newsweek, USA Today, US News and World Report to the Bulletin.) Mainly this is a question of the US’s larger industrial scale but it also represents America’s diversity of class, racial and cultural perspectives.

    The US is also more diverse population in intellectual and moral capacities. Thus there is a huge US market for higher-quality press but also a huge market for rubbishy dumb-and-dumber media.

  3. Don’t know about the US, but for the UK there is the straightforward distinction between broadsheets and tabloids which still stands up pretty well.

    I get the sense that the plogging alternative is not as well developed in the UK as in the US or Australia. If that is right, might it not say something about the quality of the opinion pieces that feature in the UK broadsheets? They really do have some fearsomely good writers.

    See you at the Festival.

  4. In response to Mark Cully, the UK distinction between broadsheet and tabloid still stands *metaphorically*, but no longer actually. The Times and the Independent have both now shifted to tabloid format, and the Guardian has announced it will also do so (having itself started the trend by creating a tabloid insert). Only the Telegraph has not (to my knowledge) indicated it will change to tabloid format.

    There is probably consensus in the UK that the quality press is those 4 “broadsheet” papers, listed here in left-to-right order:
    – The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, and The Telegraph.

    The Times used to be the paper of record, but this role is increasingly taken by the Guardian, IMO.

    I like the European news industry term for tabloids: Boulevard papers.

  5. John, in the US the quality press probably also extends to some of the magazines. The New Yorker makes everyone’s list, followed by newsmags (Time, Newsweek), and other ideas magazines (Economist, Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, Harper’s). I think the Australian magazines like the Bulletin and Time are struggling to keep up with the Australian oped pages (though the Monthly may make the grade).

    I agree with your 4 Australian quality papers. My list would have been 5 papers – I would’ve included the Berra Times, which has a surprisingly good opinion page given its relatively low readership. It does, however, have a truly awful website.

  6. The Christian Science Monitor is interesting; it’s good-quality reporting but it’s incredibly noncommittal.

    In terms of sensationalism, I’m not sure that there really *is* a tabloid print media in the US in the same way there is in Britain. I gather that the local papers throughout most of the US may not be of great quality, but they’re not the kind of sensational red meat that you get in Britain and (to a lesser extent) Australia. The people who read The Sun in the UK just don’t read a newspaper at all in the States.

  7. Robert Merkel Says: June 27th, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    The Christian Science Monitor is interesting; it’s good-quality reporting but it’s incredibly noncommittal.

    Good call, and the CSM’s non-committalism is one of its better features, unlike the NYT and WSJ which always have to be decoded for ideological bias.

  8. Latest US poll on the news media by Pew Research: June 8-12, 2005. Nationwide.

    “Large nationally influential newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post” have the lowest favorability rating of 38%, local TV news media having the highest: 78%. Odd, but apparently true.

  9. I’ll be heading over for that festival and I look forward to your session about blogs, wikis and the creative commons on the sunday.

Comments are closed.