The Death Of Journalism

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It seems that the news is now seen more as entertainment than as an information tool for the public ...With fewer and fewer owners, conglomerates such as Gannett can shape the nation's news. And with the recent rulings of the Federal Communications Commission, media conglomerates are allowed to own print and broadcast media in the same town and in many towns. Last year the New York Times had to apologize to its readers about its coverage in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war. It seems that its primary ...

My  journalism  broadcast  professor, John Patterson, must be rolling over  in  his grave.  A former CBS newsman and Edward R. Murrow acolyte, he used  to  tell  us  that  the only real morning news program was on his old station. He  taught  us  that  integrity  was  the  only real currency of journalism.  

Indeed,  that  journalistic  integrity  was  what  sent me to journalism  school  only  a year or so after the Washington Post expose the Watergate  scandal. The  whole  nation  looked up to journalists in those days.

Now,  the  major  television  networks are all owned by corporations. Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and its news division is headed by a former Republican pundit. CBS is owned by Viacom, a company owned by conservative multi-millionaire  Sumner Redstone. NBC is owned by General Electric, with its  large  military contracts.  ABC is owned by Disney. They will all tell us that the news divisions are separated from their corporate offices, but one must wonder how much that is really the case.

In any event, networks have slashed their budgets for newsrooms. The rush  to  get  a  story  on  air  first has led to many mistakes and we are deluged with entertainment and sports figures trials. In Cleveland, where I  live, there was even a young woman reporter who appeared on air naked to tell  the  story of a photo shoot.  It seems that the news is now seen more as entertainment than as an information tool for the public and a medium which is at the heart of democracy.

Print  media  is  not  much  better.  With  fewer  and fewer owners, conglomerates  such  as  Gannett can shape the nation's news.  And with the recent rulings of  the Federal Communications Commission,  media conglomerates are allowed to own print and broadcast media in the same town and in many towns.

Last  year  the  New York Times had to apologize to its readers about its coverage  in  the weeks leading up to the Iraq war. It seems that its primary  reporter  on  that  build-up  was relying primarily on information supplied  by  a  now-discredited  Pentagon  informer. Few other newspapers raised the hard questions in those days either.

The latest phenomenon in this dangerous drift is the use of reporters and so-called reporters by the White House and cabinet members to pitch the No Child Left Behind Act and other administration programs.  Over the past couple  of months it has been revealed that the administration has paid one reporter and columnist a quarter of a million dollars. Several others were paid much less, but  nevertheless  it  is a frightening use of tax payer funds.  Now we're paying to have our opinions made for us and then reported to us.

Most  recently  it  was  revealed that a "reporter" accredited by the White  House and called upon in White House press conferences was really no reporter  at  all,  but a plant by a GOP web-site.   In this post 9/11 age, with  security  at  its  zenith, one must ask how could such a fake person, without  the  proper  social  security  number and other identification, be allowed into the White House, let alone into the most prized journalistic site in the nation.

In  listening to a National Public Radio broadcast of Daniel Schorr's commentary  a  few days ago, I learned that the U.S. Senate action relative to the Terry Schiavo case had occurred  with only three U.S. Senators present.   The  voice  vote was called "unanimous consent." There was very little reporting of that fact, which changes how one might perceive of that action.

Without a strong, independent media a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people cannot exist. We are on dangerous shoals right now and we don't seem even to know it. Or maybe we just don't care.

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