The End Of Journalism?

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[Op-Ed: National]

It seems as if everyday another newspaper closes its presses.

Recently, the Rocky Mountain News, Cincinnati Post and Seattle Post Intelligencer have all gone out of business and today The Chicago Sun Times filed for bankruptcy protection.

Even daily papers that are able to keep the presses running are relying more and more on partisan commentary than real investigative reporting. As more of these closings occur, the American people will have to rely on television and the Internet for our news.

The idea that the majority of the populace will be forced to rely on television or any other entity whose main goal is to add to their bottom line profits for news is both scary and dangerous. The very fact that a media sources main goal is to maximize its profits skews its ability to provide the type of unbiased, carefully researched, investigative reporting that transcends political divisions and corporate interests.

It has been opined more than once that Rupert Murdoch, owner of the conservative Fox News, would readily change his station to become the voice of the liberal media if he thought it would net him more profits. That’s the problem. Television is here to create productions and stars. Whether it’s Katie Couric on CBS News, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, or Chris Matthews on MSNBC, their purpose is not to uncover truths through investigation of an issue, they are on their respective shows to draw audiences; to be television stars.

The cable and network anchors that bring us the news are much like many of the musicians we enjoy today. While a musician might become famous by playing a certain genre of music, that does not necessarily reflect the music that is closest to their hearts. Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, loves big band music. Kenny Rogers was a studio jazz musician before becoming a famous country star. In the same way that these musicians play the music that has made them rich, the people that bring us the news look for their niche to boost their fame.

The rhetoric that spews from some of these radio, cable and network television news stars is dangerous and divisive for the country. They seek to increase their lot in life by encouraging partisan, even angry behavior. How dangerous is Rush Limbaugh when he encourages his 20 million listeners to hope for President Obama’s policies to fail? Limbaugh has become rich by playing on his audience’s fear and ignorance. I don’t know how much Limbaugh actually believes in his own rhetoric, I do know that his wealth affords him little insight into the lives of the majority of his audience.

Limbaugh’s influence has lead many of his listeners to vote and act against their own best interests. President Obama’s proposed tax cuts are a perfect example. A huge majority of his audience would benefit from the tax cuts, however, they are so caught up in the conservative’s rhetoric that President Obama’s tax cuts promote socialism that they vote against their own best interest.

Not having a media source that can bring unbiased, in-depth information to counteract the misinformation heard and seen on television, radio and the Internet will create an even more uninformed public that’s even more vulnerable to the rhetoric of people like Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Unfortunately, the truth is that it costs the studios less to have a single obnoxious host that spreads hate, than it does to invest the time and money required for real investigative reporting.

To be fair, I happen to like Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. His version of the truth appeals to me. However, I would be remiss if I did not include him as a network television star that looks for and presents news with a liberal slant.

We have recent proof of what happens when we do not have a free press to protect us from government and corporate misbehavior. Television reporting leading up to invasion of Iraq never asked the tough questions. To the contrary, they acted as if it was their patriotic duty to fall in line with President Bush and his administration. Despite a chorus of objections from long time State Department and Pentagon analysts and employees, the television media never asked the tough questions or reported on all the improprieties once we were in Iraq.

There were, however, questions being asked in newspapers around the country. The Washington Post and New York Times both printed stories that questioned the Administration’s assertions that Iraq was somehow linked to 9/11. In September of 2006, The Washington Post wrote about how loyalty to the Bush Administration was the litmus test for being assigned to helping rebuild Iraq.

I will never forget "Dark Alliance", the 3-part series featured in the San Jose Mercury News. The author, Gary Webb, had been investigating the crack epidemic and discovered that the CIA was aware of and supported cocaine being smuggled into the U.S that was eventually distributed as crack. According to the article the CIA used the proceeds from drug sales in Los Angeles to fund the Contras during conflicts in Central America. This is the type of journalism that we lose when newspapers go out of business.

The Internet has been a useful tool in helping to keep politicians and corporations honest. The issue with the Internet is trying to cipher through the enormous amount of available information to get to the more reliable sites. While Internet sources have uncovered scandals that the mainstream media either did not uncover or chose not to reveal, it has also been a source that perpetuates lies and rumor. An example of that misuse was the insistence by some during the election that Barack Obama was really a Muslim. While I agree with Colin Powell when he says that even if President Obama was Muslim it shouldn’t make a difference, using the Internet to attempt to assassinate someone’s character is a real risk.

Finally, the less independent information we have about our local and national political representatives, the more we lose our ability to hold them accountable. A new study by Princeton University found that since the Cincinnati Post closed in 2007 fewer people voted in subsequent elections, fewer candidates ran in opposition to the incumbents and that, as a result, the incumbents had a better chance of being returned to office.

Every time a newspaper closes, we all lose a little bit of our freedom.

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