JOURNALISM IS CRIPPLED BY ECONOMICS
BUT IDEOLOGY IS JUST AS DESTRUCTIVE
It should come as no surprise that the class I remember most fondly from my days as a Journalism major at Temple University would be Editorial Writing. But then, as I have confessed…
My least favorite class was Editing. It was taught by an old guy who had been a slot man for many years on a local paper, and who insisted we learn the names of every county seat in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Explanation: A slot man was the guy who sat in the center — or slot — of the horseshoe-shaped copy desk, directing the flow of stories to the editors seated around him.)
Spelling counted in Editing class. In fact, the course was all about accuracy and detail — which felt extremely tedious and restrictive to us students, raised as we were on equal portions of Edward R. Murrow and Clarke Kent. Our idea of journalism was digging for dirt, uncovering corruption, defeating bad guys, bringing truth to the people.
Our professor’s idea was getting the names, ages and addresses right.
He used to tell us that former students who’d gone into the profession would come back years later to say how valuable his course had been to them. Which is the kind of thing guaranteed to set college kids’ eyes rolling. At least it set our eyes rolling, inclined as we were to late-1960s questioning of authority, and alert to the slightest whiff of adult pride.
But damned if he wasn’t right. A couple years later, working as a reporter on my hometown paper, I learned the importance of accuracy when our slot man would shout out at me from across the newsroom, “There are two Rs in occurred!”
The Computer Age has pretty much destroyed spelling (If Spell-check don’t catch it, it ain’t likely t’git caught).
Journalism hasn’t fared much better under the onslaught of digital news. Notice how your local paper has shrunk — if indeed it still exists — in page size, thickness, frequency of circulation. Few are the traditional publishers that have figured out how to make a buck on the Web. Cities all over the country have lost dailies of prestige and long standing. Even small-town sheets are struggling, which I find rather surprising. Where else can you get the latest local news? It isn’t likely that Associated Press is scooping the Frog Hollow Bugle & Intelligencer.
But then…if you can follow the Kardashians on TMZ, who cares about the 4-H bake sale?
Truth is, reader interest in print publications has plunged — not to mention literacy. TV news has fared somewhat better, though the major networks have also had to do a lot of trimming.
There are those who view the slide of mainstream media as poetic justice. They point to partisanship and liberal bias — and, truth to tell, it’s hard to deny that journalists tend to view the world from a lefterly point of view.
Every talented kid graduating from J-school since Watergate has dreamt of being Woodward or Bernstein, exposing the depredations of some evil Republican President. Rarely a Democrat, of course — which is why the long-awaited media turnaround on the Obama Administration never quite gains sufficient momentum to make a meaningful difference.
Somewhere in their idealistic hearts, journalists know they’re being conned. But…
Well gee…he is a trailblazer, and so many hopes are riding on him, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Hell, I’d have to go work for Fox News or Breitbart, and who needs that?
The White House has played on this predisposition masterfully. The conservative Washington Times has highlighted the “revolving door” between journalism and politics, noting how many former news hounds have taken positions in the Obama Administration. It quoted Erick Erickson, founder and editor of the blog, RedState.com, who cited…
“…Richard Stengel’s recent decision to leave his managing editor post at Time magazine and become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
“Mr. Erickson’s list included former Time correspondent Jay Carney, now Mr. Obama’s top spokesman; ABC News’ Linda Douglass, who joined the White House push to pass Obamacare and returned to journalism at The Atlantic; the Chicago Tribune’s Jill Zuckman, a political correspondent who became spokeswoman for Ray LaHood, transportation secretary in Mr. Obama’s first term; Jim Sciutto, who left ABC News to work for U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, before returning to a media job at CNN; and The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, Douglas Frantz and Stephen Barr, all of whom took posts in the Obama administration.”
There’s nothing new in politicians hiring reporters, but Erickson believes this current back-and-forth career pattern — especially pronounced since the Obamites hit town — offers a peek into the debauched state of big-time professional journalism…
“If one has a propensity to start out at a left-wing publication and then become an objective reporter, or one is readily willing to leave being an objective reporter to be a mouthpiece for one side or the other, it reveals their world view.”
The bottom line for him is bias, bias, bias…
“It is damnably hard [for conservative views] to get a fair shake when the reporter’s presuppositions going into a report is that life begins when the parents take the child home from the hospital, Ronald Reagan left America poor and destitute, or anyone who opposes gay marriage, no matter how sincerely their religious views, is a bigot.”
The temptation to join in cheering the decline of journalism is strong. I feel it often. I’m a blogger, and as more people grasp the extent to which mainstream media have become corrupted by this incestuous journalistic/political liaison, the more they turn to alternative (mostly online) outlets.
The problem is that the alternatives are as dependent as everybody else for basic information on those very mainstream news purveyors that are so deeply steeped in bias. I certainly am. One of the things I try to do with this blog is to direct readers to more immediate sources of data on the subjects I discuss. I’d say at least half of the links I provide at the ends of my posts are to mainstream media (maybe over half).
So while the alternatives might add perspective by providing a wider range of commentary on current issues — often excellent, insightful commentary — and some of the more sophisticated bloggers have developed their own networks of contacts, the staff and technology resources of major news organizations remain essential. The American people would find themselves severely disadvantaged if the whole structure of mass communication built up over the past century were to crumble.
Mainstreamers are well aware of the economic aspect of the problem. Staff reduction is epidemic, with ever-increasing reliance on freelancers (even bloggers). And while newsroom salaries have traditionally been below those of ad-sales staff, reporters at less than celebrity level are eating a lot of Ramen.
After receiving a body blow from technology, news organizations are increasingly dependent on the digital genie. Notice how many TV news remotes are done on Skype these days? Visual quality may be poor, but the price is right. There are even computer programs to speed the writing of news, automating those format elements common to most stories (just drop in the specific facts).
What’s the risk in all this? Dean Baquet, managing editor of The New York Times (and a Pulitzer Prize winner) told a recent Penn State student writers conference…
“My only fear is that the craft of witnessing and reporting on the truth will die.”
A worthy fear.
Are the mainstreamers as cognizant of the dangers posed by their ideological commitments? Even after all those White house games we’ve witnessed — the spying on journalists, the newsroom computer hacking, the blackballing of reporters who ask awkward questions, the FCC scheming to investigate TV news policies, and now the proposed media shield law, which is actually a reporter-licensing scam — what major news organization has made a full-out frontal attack on this administration for gutting the First Amendment?
There are a few cracks in the wall. Sharyl Attkisson, the investigative reporter who pursued the Benghazi and Fast and Furious scandals with particular doggedness, recently quit CBS after finding the liberal atmosphere increasingly stifling. Seymour Hersh, described by the lefty British journal, Guardian, as “the nemesis of U.S. presidents since the 1960s,” has called current journalism “pathetic,” and advocated the sacking of 90 percent of American editors.
But by and large, the heavy lifting on this issue is done by conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and those other “crazy Neanderthals.”
I recently read the autobiography of the late anchorman, Walter Cronkite, A Reporter’s Life. Written in 1996, Conkrite’s closing chapter makes a broad sweep of American journalism and some of the trends — even then well underway — that are affecting the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.
No right-winger (rather, a liberal of the old school), Cronkite observed that…
“The secret of our past success as a nation may be traced to the fact that we have been a free people, free to discuss ideas and alternatives, free to teach and learn, free to report and to hear….”
Naturally, broadcast journalism was Cronkite’s primary focus, and he was surprisingly candid in acknowledging the reportorial shallowness of the CBS Evening News, the pioneering TV news program over which he presided for nearly two decades. But he also saw what was happening to newspapers, already in decline by the mid-’90s (he lived to witness the end of so many by the time of his death in 2009)…
“The public seems to sense all this, but does it really understand? The preservation of our liberties depends on an enlightened citizenry …. The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by the demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed.”
Journalism, as a profession, must address the factors bringing about its own destruction. It’s making some progress in the economic area.
But the ideology side?
Not so much.
When I was a reporter, a common dream among my colleagues was to come bursting into the newsroom shouting, “Hold the presses!”
None of us ever got onto a story that was hot enough to let us live out that fantasy.
These days, it would hardly be necessary. Too many of those presses are already on hold.
The Washington Times’ examination of cozy relationships between the Obamites and their media chums is worth reading. For example, it quotes this pithy observation from conservative pundit Cal Thomas, who calls the media…
“‘a minor league team for a major league Obama administration ….’ adding that the practice ‘does great damage to an already damaged industry.’”
Here’s the link…
And here’s the UK’s Guardian on the reflections of Seymour Hersh, after a long journalistic career that has generated its own controversy. Hersh is the guy who broke the story of prisoner abuse by American soldiers in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib Prison during the Bush year’s, so he’s no Republican toady…
“The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.
“‘It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],’ he declares in an interview with the Guardian.”
Give it a read at…
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin took aim at the President’s media Amen! corner — led fervently by The New York Times — over what he call’s the “Obama Protection Racket” that’s providing cover as calamity after calamity overwhelms Obamacare…
“The mainstream media is acting only because the story is too big to ignore. Had it been mildly skeptical sooner, it could have exposed the law’s destructive rules and prevented the disaster ….
“Instead of just expressing its own liberal views, the [Times] editorial page serves as the propaganda arm of the administration, the Jay Carney of print media. Its daily drumbeat of shrill partisanship leaves it indistinguishable from Dem party hacks who spend their waking hours demonizing Republicans.”
Check it out at…