8.18.2009

News at noon

Sooner or later, DemWit gets back to the state of journalism in this country, and it is with deep regret that I report America’s “Fourth Estate” is in critical condition.

Straight news, hard news, investigative reporting continue to be supplanted by opinion and by tabloid-journalism appeal to basest instincts and prurient interests.

Fewer and fewer reporters are in the field, actually engaged in fact-gathering, resulting in higher profits for media conglomerates.

Cable news and network news have become … well, if you watch them, I don’t have to explain how they have devolved into nothingness. Instead of digging up facts and reporting a story, anchors turn to guest pundits to shovel up their "version" of a story.

Local newscasts are straight off the police register – murder and mayhem – with few investigations into local government and plenty of canned material from the corporate level. Describing local news, my friend, journalist Bill Sumrall is dead on, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

On a personal level, I weaned myself first from cable news – when Charter Communications dropped C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 from its expanded basic lineup. A few weeks back, I abandoned network news and the dregs of basic cable and turned solely to the Internet for news.

What I’m finding on U.S. news sources online are the same inadequate offerings. From cnn.com’s “Laterst News” headlines to the front page of the venerable New York Times, there are slim pickings.

I am suffering from a news dearth. This nation is suffering from a news dearth.


No revelation here. When this nation was marching toward an invasion of Iraq, those seeking less subjective coverage turned to foreign news sources.

A few weeks back I read once more James A. Michener’s “Centennial.” One of the historical novel's major characters had been appointed to chair a statewide effort to improve the environment – in conjunction with the celebration of Colorado’s centennial and the nation’s bicentennial.

He tunes in to his car radio for news at noon, hoping to hear an announcement about this statewide effort:

FIRST MALE ANNOUNCER: Well, folks, it’s high noon, and the train is chugging in from Poison Snake, and Sheriff Gary Cooper is a-waitin’ at the station.

SECOND MALE ANNOUNCER: It’s time for the news, all the news, the straight news delivered without fear or favor. The news you want when you want it.

FEMAILE QUARTET SINGING IN CLOSE HARMONY: From North, from South, From East and West, we bring it first, we bring it best

FIRST MALE ANNOUNCER: Yes, sirree, like the girls just said we bring it best. Remember, you heard it first on Western Burst.

MALE AND FEMALE QUARTETS, BLENDING: The news, the news, the news, here comes the news.

SECOND MALE ANNOUNCER: But, first a brief message which is sure to be of interest.

HERE FOLLOW TWO MINUTES OF SINGING COMMERCIALS.

FIRST MALE ANNOUNCER (breathlessly): West Berlin, Germany. This morning Chancellor Willy Brandt announced a radical shift in his cabinet.

SECOND MALE ANNOUNCER (gravely): Oakland, California. At a special press conference called hurriedly this morning, the management of the Oakland Raiders announced that Choo Choo Chamberlain would, I repeat, would be able to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

MALE AND FEMALE QUARTEST, BLENDING: No matter when the stories burst, you hear it here, you hear it first.

FIRST MALE ANNOUNCER: Stay tuned for all the news; the news in depth; the news behind the news.

MALE AND FEMALE QUARTETS, BLENDING: All the news, the news you need, yes indeed, yes indeed.

FIRST MALE ANNOUNCER: Next complete news coverage one hour from now.

SECOND MALE ANNOUNCER: Unless, of course, there is some fast breaking news development anywhere in the world. If there is, you know we break in right away, regardless of the program, because Western Burst is always first. All the news, the news in depth.

***

This newscast would be amusing if it weren’t so recognizable.

It is good news then that the non-profit Center for Public Integrity will be teaming up with the Associated Press to deliver “authoritative, dynamic investigative reports that hold government and corporate power accountable.”

Read the Center for Public Integrity’s “Mission Statement.”

12 comments:

Frodo, the most trusted Hobbit in America said...

Sadly, there is no money in news. As Ted Turner said to his son Teddy when CNN was sold, and Teddy's job was therefore in jeopardy, "You're toast."

sue said...

I read the daily newspaper each morning, and watch cable news, thats about it I'm afraid. I watch our local news just for the weather report, pitiful aren't I!!

Falzone for America said...

I hope maybe the Internet will prove to be a catalyst for a return to investigative reporting. Obviously it already has but with so many various web sites. If this CPI site can merge al of the important events together in one place that would be a blessing. FOX News, and News MAX viewers will still frequent those propaganda machines but we would have a much better source all in one place.

B.J. said...

The value of the merger with Assoicated Press is the distribution to news outlets all over the country and the world. Anytime, you see a dateline in the newspaper or in an online article which reads, for exaple, “Washington (AP) – Today Sen. So and So,” that article came from the great newsgathering source, the Associated Press. Almost every news outlet subscribes to the AP feeds. In a statement from CPI about its merger with AP, its investigative reporting has “the opportunity to reach thousands of media organizations and millions more news consumers.”

BJ

Infidel753 said...

opinion and by tabloid-journalism appeal to basest instincts and prurient interests.

"Next up: Why America needs more Death Panel members with big boobs!"

Seriously, there's been a revolution going on in news gathering for some time. I haven't watched TV in over 15 years and I've never felt I was missing anything. My city's main daily paper seems to have some sports thing on the front page every other day, even when there's real news going on.

When the Iranian uprising broke, Andrew Sullivan and Iranian bloggers had minute-by-minute reports based on Twitter feeds from the scene as it was happening, while the MSM blithered on about tomato-throwing contests and Michael Jackson.

Bloggers like Michael Totten and Michael Yon have been reporting from the Middle East for years in a depth that the MSM seldom matched and never surpassed.

The MSM is becoming shallow and unserious, but that doesn't mean we can't find news if we really want it.

B.J. said...

I-753:

As a blogger of little note, I should appreciate the confidence you have in the blogosphere.

I am a liberal, so I am going to report issues that validate my stance. That’s only natural. I do not mind disagreement, if it’s civili and fact-based. I often learn from it.

By and large, blogs express the opinions of their authors, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a problem, however, with trusting blgggers for hard news – unless they document sources. There is a possiblility that many bloggers giving “eye-witness” acconts are making it up as they go, and that bothers me.

I could get up in the morning and write thet the sun didn’t come up, but unless I have direct quotes from legitimate sources, don’t you believe it until you go outside and see for yourself.

A few years ago, a number of forum friends were very much into a blogger named “Riverbend,” whose blog “Baghdad Burning” was allegedly a young woman’s daily reports about life in Baghdad after the U.S. invasion:

riverbendblog dot blogspot dot com

When I suggested the blogger could be a Cheeto-eating guy in Cincinnati, many of these friends became upset, and one – a lovely Greek warrior in California - even cut off any further contact with me.

I later heard liberal writer and commentator Jonathan Alter discuss on one of the cable networks blogs from Iraq which he judged to be legitimate sources of information. Riverbend’s, Alter said, was not. He called “Baghdad Burning” “anti-American.”

There have been no further reports from Riverbend after October 2007. Being anonymous who will ever know why the reports stopped?

The point is: there is no way to check the accuracy of anyone who is giving such eye-witness accounts.

Thanks for coming here often and sharing your views. I really appreciate your interest.

BJ

airth10 said...

BJ,

I am at a loss for words or for saying anything relevant. Nevertheless, I'll blurt something out.

News is a business and an entertainment. It's a profession that I don't know can get any better than it is. There is always going to be just a minority that reads and digests the news. Reading and digesting the news seems to me to also be a profession, which not everybody cares to do.

I am always interested in what keeps a diverse group of people like in the US together, in having common ground. We know it's not the news, or is it.

Infidel753 said...

BJ, I think the question is, do our present resources do any worse of a job than what we had before with "professional" news?

It turns out that the MSM themselves have often had an agenda which slanted their reporting. With the rise of blogs, it became possible to detect this and expose it with a speed and verifiability which had not been possible before -- see Rathergate, for example.

In the case of the Iranian uprising, everyone recognized that the Twitter reports from people on the ground were tentative and that any individual report might be inaccurate (the theocracy even created fake Twitter sources and fake reports). Nevertheless, thousands of people were giving eyewitness reports of the same events, and there were many different blogs reporting the same incidents and any attempt at actual distortion by the bloggers would have been immediately obvious. A person reading Andrew Sullivan and Saeed Valadbaygi would have had a much better sense of what was really going on than a person relying on MSM coverage of the same events.

We no longer have a few gatekeepers who decide what's news. We have millions of people reporting and passing along what interests them. Distortions are caught quickly. Within hours of Palin talking about "death panels", for example, countless bloggers had confirmed that there was no such thing in the actual bill, and provided links so readers could see for themselves.

Reporting has always had biases that distorted the news we got. I prefer to have those biases acknowledged upfront, as bloggers do, and to have the constant crosschecking that goes on now to expose misinformation.

Some people refuse to acknowledge when something they accepted is dicproven, and just continue to believe whatever fits their own prejudices -- but that has always been true.

Thanks for all you do on this blog -- you've brought quite a few things to my attention which I hadn't previously seen.

B.J. said...

I think all of your comments are making the point that the MSM could be greatly improved. From personal experience, any attempt at subjectivity in a straight news story in college or at newpapers where I worked would have gotten a reporter kicked out on the street. There is subjectivity in story placement as editors decide a story’s importance , particularly what appears and where it appears on the front page. There is a reason the biggest story of the day is across the top with a banner headline. This is what used to grab attention “above the fold” as newsboy hawked them on street corners or they were placed in vending machines. They said “Buy me!”

A newspaper appears “biased” because of its editorial pages, but that’s exactly why they are marked “opinion.” Editorials are the voice of the newspaper and have no by-lines. While there is only one writer, the stance is decided by an editorial board. Columns are solely the opinion of their writers. The voice of the people can be found in the letters-to-the-editor section.

As for the degree of on-scene reporting, more and more newspapers have closed their foreign bureaus to cut costs. How many reports did we see from the safety of Baghdad’s “Green Zone”? I have a book of Ernie Pyle’s war dispatches. Where are the Joe Galloways who jumped out of a helicopter into a hot landing zone in the Ia Drang Valley to take photos for the UPI?

I keep getting an image of John Malkovich in “The Killing Fields” running into the middle of a sidewalk café where a bomb had just exploded, dancing around the dead and snapping photos as quickly as his camera would respond.

Yes, I romanticize it. The history of journalism in this country is fascinating. Yes, there have been periods of yellow journalism and corruption, particularly in the New York City newspaper wars of the early 20th Century. William Randolph Hearst told a photographer: “You provide the photos; I’ll provide the war.”

Did we ever imagine, though, that “newsgathering” would slip into extensnsive coverage of latest celebrity gossip. As Frodo points out, real news doesn’t make the profits. As an old grey-haired editor once told me when I complained about the shrinking news hole on the inside pages, “It’s a business. If you don’t want it to be a business, you’d better get out.”

The economic downturn led to the closing of some of the nation’s greatest newspapers in the last year. There is no doubt the Internet is going to replace your morning newspaper, and newspapers are gearing up for the transition.

That make me sad.

Aside to I-753: I have learned some things from this blog that I would not have known otherwise!

BJ

sue said...

I'm up and running B.J.!!! Come by, talk to ya tomorrow!! xo

Tiny said...

Seems the only so-called news is the entertainment infomercials. Does anyone care that indicted Tom DeLay is going to be dancing on TV? He should be dancing behind bars, but we aren't going to hear that.

Names Tiny wants to hear? Those released by UBS at the behest of the IRS. IRS got serious about collecting taxes due on all those hidden Swiss bank accounts. Some stumbling all over their own feet to voluntairily pay in hopes their names not be made public by IRS.

Seems the list is comprable to the DC madam's black book. It will be interesting to see if a journalist steps forward to give the roll call. Is there one honest-to-God true journalist who will do this?

If not, maybe Barney Frank will take up the task. The pendulum swings and cuts in a scythe like fashion. Perhaps then, real journalists can once again step front and center to report "the news!"

sue said...

Cat woman!!LOL!! Hey I fight just like the best of 'em!! BJ get my email address from Mat if you ever want to get ahold of me OK!! Have a good bloggy break!! xo