Why does every one of 1,300 air travel deaths worldwide in 2006 make front page news, while 40,000 driving deaths every year in the U.S. barely make a blip on traffic reports?
Take a journalism class and you'll find out: "news" is defined by journalists as unusual, timely information. Traffic deaths happen all the time, so they generally don't qualify as news. Planes almost never crash, so when one does, that's news. Really. This goes way beyond the well-known "if it bleeds, it leads." Professional journalists are trained not to report on things that routinely happen. That's simply not their job.
It stands to reason that professional journalists, and the organizations they work for, are uniquely unqualified to cover long-term trends, change fundamental misconceptions about the world, or foster the public awareness necessary to solve routine problems like the yearly death of 40,000 Americans in twisted piles of smoking metal.
OK, so I'm exaggerating a bit. Newspapers and other journalistic organizations do investigative reporting, analysis, etc., that does not qualify as "news". But the fundamental truth remains: if you are primarily interested in gathering information that will help you know about, understand and solve the real problems in your life, looking only to "news" sources is, by definition, going to send you down the wrong path.
The other major problem with journalists is "objectivity". Objectivity has always been a sham, since journalists have this built-in bias toward "news", and even the most dedicated, fair-minded journalist filters events according to this bias. However, in recent years, "objectivity" has devolved to mean choosing exactly two "sides" of a notional "debate" about the story and presenting those sides' biased, self-serving perspectives verbatim. Obviously, this does not yield objectivity in the sense most people undertand it. More often than not, journalists eschew even this faux objectivity by providing exactly one perspective. When was the last time you read a report on a recent arrest that quoted the accused?
Some journalists, however, go all out with an independent investigation of the facts. It's rare, but it definitely happens, and good journalists from better news organizations always strive to infuse their stories with independently verified information - in essence, the truth. This "fact checking" is often cited as a reason to trust the professionals. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, journalists are professionals only in the journalism field. Their understanding of complex issues pales in comparison to that of experts in relevant fields. This is obvious whenever you read a news story about a field you are expert in - you will always find factual inaccuracies, ommissions, and misrepresentations in the story. A news story that reports accurately on a complex or technical subject does come around once in a while, but you have to assume that if you're unfamiliar with the topic of the story, the truth is being misrepresented in some substantial way.
For example, this article on CNN Money states: "Meanwhile, the two houses are expected to appreciate only about 3 percent a year - the couple can do better than that with Treasuries." This is an invalid apples-to-apples comparison between the return on a non-leveraged asset (t-bills) and a leveraged asset (real estate). It's misleading and false in a way that materially affects readers' decision-making, and yet it appears in an article from an authoritative, even specialist traditional news site. Moreover, I've complained about this statement and it hasn't been corrected. Obviously, a large organization like CNN is never going to take the time to correct an error in an obscure analysis article just because a mortgage industry professional calls them on it.
The bottom line: professional journalists add little value to people's day-to-day information-gathering and decision-making process. Historically, with their unique constitutional protections and access to viewers and readers, journalists have been the only source for a lot of important information. However, this role of providing access to information has largely been taken over by other information sources, such as the World Wide Web, which gives ordinary citizens direct access to most of the primary sources, experts, and geographically distributed observers of breaking news that journalists once monopolized.
Enter the blogger. Bloggers can have horrible bias and publish falsehoods with striking ease and impunity. Journalists also publish biased statements and get away with printing falsehoods. In fact, their job is to filter events in a way that, by definition, misrepresents reality and radically molds public perception. Despite this, journalists as a profession pretend to have a special value and authority as information sources, a pretense bloggers will never pull off. When you first encounter a blog, it's just a blog. You approach it warily. You observe it carefully from a distance. It's time we applied the same standards to the news.