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We Need a Populist Movement-Part 4: Journalism

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When I was a child, journalism was ruthless.  Investigative reporting was in its prime, shining the light of day on corruption, indolence, criminal activity, under the table deal making and the like.  The government hated the media because they showed the American people in very real terms the horrible truth some powerful people wanted hidden:  the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, the extreme police action at Kent State, to name just a few.  60 Minutes did ground-breaking work that defined the standard for journalism.

Today, Clay Shirky and other insightful thinkers state that the expensive and extraordinary work of investigative journalism was funded by the ample profit margins gleaned from media advertising, both television and print.  Now, with the advent of cable media and the internet, advertising to the masses, according to many, has reached its true value.  As a result, profit margins have radically dropped.  As a result, print news media is dying.  The LA Times, for example, is probably 80% advertising and 20% news.  And, some notable sources say the result has been the death of investigative journalism.

During the George W. Bush administration, the Republicans pushed for and got changes to FCC regulations that effectively and significantly reduced the number of news outlets even further, allowing fewer people to have greater ownership and control of media outlets.  From my vantage point, the confluence of these two things (lack of investigative journalism and reducing the number of media outlets) appears to have compromised one of democracies most vitally needed pillars, an informed citizenry.  Have you noticed that an increasing percentage of the news articles across all media outlets have the exact same titles, even the same content?  I seriously wonder who is paying for me to read and hear these “stories?”

I have lamented CNN becoming “the Crime News Network” as they focus so much attention on sensationalizing missing persons and individual murder cases.  (I’m sure this is inexpensive for them.)  And the whole of cable news seems to create an artificial sense of crisis around lack-luster “reporting” to sell their media, creating a 24 cable hour news cycle that amounts to little more than an overdramatized feeding frenzy.  As local papers have died, corruption is going undetected creating an unprecedented environment of bold fraud and theft of tax payer dollars like the Bell, California, city officials who actually thought they could get away with salaries of $8,000,000.

We need a populist movement that will hold government accountable for protecting “We the people…” by providing significant incentives to create a variety of non-partisan media outlets, rather than the current incentives to reduce their ownership to a few wealthy people.  We need to de-centralize news media.  We need to stop attempting to kill funding for public broadcasting.  News media outlets must never be the puppet of a few stunningly wealthy people or any political party.  People need to turn off and unsubscribe to media that is doing a poor job of honest, non-partisan investigative journalism.  Demand unbiased, fact-checked, relevant news!

To allow our current system to continue is to perpetuate a meaningless national conversation focused on polarity, not problem-solving and threatens the very survival of democracy.  [I also suspect that to attack Wikileaks is to attack free speech, but that’s a whole different “can of worms.”]

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2 thoughts on “We Need a Populist Movement-Part 4: Journalism”

  1. I’ve got to admit that even 20 years ago, I noted with cynicism that papers from across the country would carry the same stories as each other most days. The same phenomenon affected the visual media as each network magically found–in the main–the same half-dozen or so stories worthy of evening reporting. The journalism was, I think, even then driven by a few sources, such as API and UPI. The distinction today is the phenomenal dumbing down of ALL our visual media and the general failure of all–even NPR–to even attempt to report in an unbiased, non-partisan, non-ideological manner. They’re all whores to their chosen view of how the world should appear and function and their “unbiased” reporting is a mantra they chant that convinces nobody but themselves. If there’s a strength in our current state, it is that so many can access so much so easily. Perhaps the truth may be divined, in part, by reading all of the opposing views in the marketplace of ideas to allow the best ideas, or even an amalgam of those presented, to percolate to the top for my consideration.

    1. Yes. We rarely seem to get beyond the wedge issues in the mainstream media. At one time I thought that the internet would provide people with deeper insight into opposing views so we could sort out our thinking on matters of relevance. Unfortunately. I’m not finding that to be the case. Seems that the noise floor has risen and dampens some really important voices. Now people, all of us in a mad rush, seem to gravitate to the same sources we tend to trust a bit more for a quick affirmation of our world view in whatever current story is floating by. (I do it too.) Sadly, I’m not so sure the glut of information available to us has really been used to better inform us. The abundance of distraction seems to cause more people to choose inattentiveness. (i.e.: I was dumbfounded that a really significant majority of Americans had no idea the Republicans took back the Congress. Jeeze.)

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