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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 12, 2011 5:46 AM. The previous post in this blog was That wasn't dogs. The next post in this blog is U of O gets in bed with pure corruption. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Prayer for the dying

The Sunday New York Times is here on our doorstep, as it has been just about every Sunday morning since we can't remember when. Certainly 20 years, probably more like 30.

It's the only dead-tree news product we pay to have delivered any more. The daily Times and all of the O went by the board a while back. We like the kids to see what a newspaper is like, but it's doubtful they'll ever read one regularly.

This report, from the FCC of all people, has gotten us thinking again about the decline of the local news media. It's a long read, but the super-condensed executive summary is here: "there is a 'shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting' that could lead to 'more government waste, more local corruption,' 'less effective schools' and other problems."

People say that all the blogging and aggregating that's being done will fill in some of the gaps, but as a person who's done a fair amount of all that, we don't see it that way. Bloggers without day jobs won't be blogging for long, and bloggers with day jobs rarely have the time to dig in and do the time-consuming work that real journalism requires when it's done right.

Consider this nice interview that a reader sent me a link to recently; about two thirds of the way down, the smart interviewee says this:

Bill Moyers: I remain indebted to those reporters who go where I can’t go, who talk to people I can’t reach, and come back. I’m still indebted to them. And as you say, you were spit out by the forces at work in the journalistic world. And now journalism is spitting out reporters like teeth.

David Simon: Left and right. You know, listen, I was not the last. That’s true. And it’s heartbreaking. And I say this with no schadenfreude just because I got a TV gig. It’s heartbreaking what’s happening, and I feel that the republic is actually in danger.

There is no guard now assessing anything qualitatively, no pulling back the veil behind what an official will tell you is progress, or is valid, or is legitimate as policy. Absent that, no good can come from anything. Because there is an absolute disincentive to tell the truth.

Bill Moyers: I read something you recently told The Guardian in London: "Oh, to be a state or local official in America" — without newspapers — "it’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."

David Simon: Well, I was being a little hyperbolic.

Bill Moyers: But it’s happening.

David Simon: Yes. It absolutely is. To find out what’s going on in my own city I often find myself at a bar somewhere, writing stuff down on a cocktail napkin that a police lieutenant or some schoolteacher tells me because these institutions are no longer being covered by beat reporters who are looking for the systemic. It doesn’t exist anymore....

Scary, scary stuff. When I was a kid growing up, journalism was really hitting a stride, which culminated in bringing down Nixon. We were told the Fourth Estate would save us, and that it was important and needed constant protection, but we didn't listen all that carefully because it was so mighty that it seemed invincible.

But it wasn't stronger than corporate greed. The bean counters and their mentality took over publishing and wrung every last penny they could get out of it, leaving news media so vulnerable that the internet dealt it what seems to be a mortal blow.

Let's hope -- however unrealistic it seems -- that it comes back, somehow, to some degree, from where it is now.

Comments (19)

Speaking of journalism that fails the mark...

http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=130756936698855100

A lovely little written excuse for bad cop behavior... apparently cop fear is the excuse for excessive force

My second 'Amen' to a post here this week.

Bill Moyers: I remain indebted to those reporters who go where I can’t go, who talk to people I can’t reach, and come back. I’m still indebted to them.

Most of us are indebted to those reporters, that are becoming an extinct species.

Jack: your post is more 'on the mark' than not but a couple extra thoughts.

Complacency, not greed, is what will eventually destroy the daily newspaper. Upper management just didn't understand how the internet (Craigs List, et al) could and would destroy their advertising model. There just aren't enough overpriced classified ads (okay, a little greed was there) to pay for more than stenographers who eagerly await the next press release their former co-worker will share with them over coffee. Still money to pay for things like 'beer critics', however...

But all is not lost. Blogs like yours are journalism, of a fashion, and the smart reader will read you, and many others, understanding the truth is someplace in the middle.

One last thing - it wasn't journalists which brought down Nixon, journalists merely reported what was happening. It was the public, reacting to journalism, which brought him down. Journalists don't make news, they simply report it. That's why it's a trade, not a profession.

Y'know if the news just stuck to news in stead of being a shill for politicians or trying to compete with the Star, they might have had a better chance.

However, when you get people running the papers who have about 0.01% creativity and the rest is guessing on how to sell more papers instead, this is what you get.

500 sources giving us the same Weiner story and legislatures voting on dirt instead of budgets.

"Let's hope -- however unrealistic it seems -- that it comes back, somehow, to some degree, from where it is now."
===

It has come back, and it's called 'citizen journalism'.

What SeymourGlass said.

Bojack is the go to read for all the undiscovered crap in Portland politics. Why? Because the Zero-gonian FAILED. (ie Washington Post -Packwood, Goldschmidt, etc etc).

Same with the national media. Where is Dan Rather? No loss... Who roasted the Weiner? Not MSM...

"But all is not lost. Blogs like yours are journalism, of a fashion, and the smart reader will read you, and many others, understanding the truth is someplace in the middle."
===

People are not dumb, but MSM has treated them like idiots, so they find info and knowledge in other places.

"One last thing - it wasn't journalists which brought down Nixon, journalists merely reported what was happening. It was the public, reacting to journalism, which brought him down. Journalists don't make news, they simply report it."
===

Well... they report what they want us to read... their version of what is important. (Rather, et al) People now have alternatives like Bojack where it is sometimes much more credible. It's an "Army of Davids" thing, where Goliath is getting slayed.

SeymourGlass stated: Journalists don't make news, they simply report it. That's why it's a trade, not a profession.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Journalists do make the news from what they find out. "Reporters" are simply that, and are the primary vehicles for the deception industry.

And Jack is right about blogging -- and, they are obscure and diffuse and very limited access aspects of one kind of "fashionable" journalism.

The internet is the new opium of the masses.

Buzz up!

Perhaps you'll find time for the hour-long interview with Moyers that ran last Wednesday, "Democracy should be a brake on unbridled greed and power":
http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/8/bill_moyers_on_his_legendary_journalism

Much of the interview concerns Moyers's role in public broadcasting, to the principle of which he remains committed but about the actual practice of which he is skeptical:

"BILL MOYERS: And unfortunately, as you’ve probably noticed, that there was a report done by Fairness and Accuracy in Media, a public interest group—

AMY GOODMAN: In Reporting.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, right?

AMY GOODMAN: FAIR, right.

BILL MOYERS: FAIR. And they showed that even on public broadcasting today, in our mainstream broadcasts, it’s usually the official view of reality that’s represented, far more corporate spokesmen than labor or working people spokesmen, far more white, male figures of authority than people of color and marginalized people. That’s just a tendency of human beings that always has to be resisted. And public television, public radio belongs to the people. Go back and read a great document, the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. And when we stray from it, as we sometimes do, the public has to rise up and say, 'We own you. We are your shareholders. Come back to first principles. Come back to first things.'"

Mojo: I'll stick with my original thoughts.

You're correct, there are some who work in the media who simply pass along what they're told ("reporters", you call them) and others who actually do their job, which is to look for the complete story (these you call "journalists").

But this "journalism" is a job which, like laying pipe, is skilled labor but not a profession. The "journalist" does not (or, more accurately, "should not") determine what part of the story their reader needs to know and what part the reader needn't know.

Woodward and Bernstein were good journalists. In these days, they might well rewrite the press release of Ron Ziegler and leave it at that. But, their work, good as it was, wasn't itself the "news". They no more brought down Nixon than the radar operator on a submarine who yells 'incoming' wins the war.

So the Federal Communications Commission has issued a report that finds that the decline in the media industry, especially newspapers, means fewer stories are getting covered out there in our nation. Wow, what insight! Thanks for putting our tax dollars to work.

Among the recommendations of the panel, directing more federal advertising spending to local news media -- aka earmarking Federal advertising spending. And what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Apparently media outlets haven't declined to the point where the Federales have given up on their desire to control the content.

Journalism is more than just a skill, it requires several talents -- and more.

Btw, Woodward was just continuing his spying career as a reporter channelling info from "Deep Throat," and his spooky career continues it to this day, starting with his book based on deathbed interviews of CIA Dir. Casey, to his latest on the Obama WH @war. Bernstein, an investigative journalist, is a horse of a different breed entirely.

Moyers has been doing ever-greater work since he left government. Miss his "NOW" show.

Moyers once did his job, think it was selling Vietnam for LBJ and blackmailing a gay politician for LBJ as well. Since those palmy, glory days he's been on a downhill slide.

I like Joseph Campbell but was made very uncomfortable by his Moyers-led "follow your bliss" sanctification. Old Joe didn't much care for Jews and was glad to let you know it.

However, the culmination of this thinking man's "journalist" was his we're all buddies and your really a sweet and wise man interview with the race hater and baiter the Reverend Wright. I was waiting for Moyers to get Pfilger and maybe Hugo Chavez on his show so that they might exchange hands and organs under the table.

Blogging is very rarely "primary reporting". Blogging generally aggregates stories investigated by other people.

I love this blog, but Jack tends to find articles in other sources and provides commentary on them. Most blogs are like this.

They can't replace traditional journalism. Without primary reporting from the O or elsewhere, blogs like these dry up.

One reason that I still subscribe to the Oregonian, despite its shrinking content, is to support, in a modest way, the idea that a city of any importance needs a newspaper -- more exactly a reporting organization -- that supports a staff of reporters and investigators, to keep government and the major institutions accountable to the public.

Issac writes : One reason that I still subscribe to the Oregonian, despite its shrinking content, is to support, in a modest way, the idea that a city of any importance needs a newspaper --

That is the same reason I bought a Chevy Vega back in the 70's. Great minds think alike!

I bought a Ford for partly the same reason, but haven't got to the point of going for a GM product yet.

Seems like an opportune time to suggest that people read George Seldes's book "Tell the Truth and Run."

We need honest journalism, but we are drowning in "media."

But, Seymour, radar operator on a submarine?

When people tell me all about how journalism is responsible for taking down despots and exposing excesses, I like to tell them a little tale concerning former Texas Governor Bill Clements. Bill had been the first Republican Governor of Texas since Reconstuction, but he got his butt beaten like the family mule by challenger Mark White in the 1982 gubernatorial election. Taking advantage of Texas's economic woes in 1986 in the wake of the oil bust, Bill ran again, squeaked into the office again, and then ran straight into his first big scandal.

See, Bill was on the board of directors for Southern Methodist University, and SMU was caught paying new recruits for its football team. (As anyone who's had to deal with SMU will tell you, the school's attitude is that there isn't a problem so big that it can't be fixed by throwing money at it.) Bill claimed publicly that he knew nothing about the payments, but was overheard at a party admitting that he knew about them and approved them. He later stated that he lied to reporters about knowledge of the payments because "there wasn't a Bible in the room."

Now, what's interesting is that this news was broken by the late, great Dallas Times Herald, but it was a Dallas Morning News reporter who first heard Clements laughing and joking about the scandal. Said reporter was at the party with then editor/publisher Burl Osborne, who told the reporter to "sit on the story." It was just pure coincidence that Osborne had both written innumerable editorials endorsing Clements in the 1986 election, and made significant contributions to the campaign. The reporter, understandably terrified of losing his job, came to heel, and the Morning News only acknowledged that there was a problem when the Times Herald news went national.

Ultimately, the Morning News got its revenge...kindasorta. In 1991, the owner of the Times Herald put the paper up for sale. A.H. Belo, owner of the Morning News, somehow managed to get the okay to buy up its only competitor without any competing offers, shut down the paper, and promptly demolished the building. Belo even paid for a horrible mural to cover over the scar from the demolition on the adjoining building. The idea was to make the Morning News THE source for news in the area, which would have worked if the Internet hadn't come along. (Interestingly, Osborne was still telling anybody dumb enough to listen in 1999 that "the Internet is nothing but a fad." His boss, Belo CEO Robert Dechard, half-listened, and figured that it was time to invest about $30 million in a brand new tool that was going to take the Interwebs by storm...called the CueCat.)

As a sidenote, Bill Clements died two weeks ago. If your sole news source was the Dallas Morning News, and if you'd moved to Dallas from elsewhere in the last decade, you'd never have known about Bill's involvement in the pay-for-play scandal. Osborne retired nearly a decade ago, but there's no way in hell that anybody at the Morning News is going to admit previous culpability. It couldn't be because then its few remaining readers would start asking about other conflicts of interest, would it?

It's the only dead-tree news product we pay to have delivered any more. The daily Times and all of the O went by the board a while back.

So isn't that part of the problem? We got used to ad-subsidized newspapers, and now that the ads are gone to the internets, the dailies cannot survive without much higher subscription costs. But many, many people have stopped subscribing because the quality has deteriorated. The only way to stop it is to resubscribe, and be willing to pay two to three times as much.

Re: "Seems like an opportune time to suggest that people read George Seldes's book 'Tell the Truth and Run.'"

GAS,
And run is what honest reporters did if they ever told the truth about Walter Annenberg in Philadelphia during the middle of the last century. It was to George Seldes's largely forgotten younger brother Gilbert that Mr Annenberg turned to be the founding dean of his effort to rehab the family name by establishing a school of communications at UPenn. There may never be an opportune time for a suggestion to read Gilbert's "The Future of Drinking."


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