How Mainstream Media Broke Its Contract With Readers, part II09.04.2007
In my last post I discussed the way main stream media (MSM) inevitably ran the small press out of business, and now I’m going to finish up my critique through a discussion of how I think MSM actively broke its trust with readers.
The press should operate as the fourth estate — a check on government power through the free exchange of ideas. (But whether the public actually wants this from MSM is another blog post). Impartiality is embedded in the concept of journalistic objectivity — reporters are supposed to check their biases at the door. Also, ideally journalism should give us the facts. MSM has failed on all three accounts.
- MSM has not provided the public with accurate information:
- Many journalists have recently been caught plagarizing. Jayson Blair is the obvious example.
- Because MSM didn’t scuttle fast enough, we went to war. We didn’t hear that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we didn’t find out about torture soon enough to prevent it — the Bush administration was not held up to scrutiny in the days surrounding 9/11. Journalists were sleeping on the job.
I understand that the Bush White House, and perhaps other White Houses as well, grant better access to and answer more questions from favorably inclined reporters, as opposed to ones who ask tough questions. This is a plainly unacceptable situation, and I would like to see reporters banding together to boycott substance-less press conferences where only the softball questions get answered.
- Because reporters rolled over and accepted the administration’s press conference rules, they lost the credibility that objectivity brings. Right-leaning news organizations got great access but weren’t very critical, left-leaning organizations got bitter and preachy. In a sense, Bush polarized the media, although I’m sure earlier administrations helped.
- In an ideal world, newspapers would disseminate information freely and reporters would not be paid. The absence of money would help ensure that reporters were in it for the truth, and not for cash. Obviously, we do not live in an ideal world and newspapers and reporters must be paid for their work, but MSM has taken things too far. My perception, which I believe others share, is that news corporations are owned by uber-conglomerates that hawk a wide variety of stuff, and I don’t have time to parse these relations myself. I worry that this commercial bent is slanting news media, imbuing it with consumerism. The news is not the news, but PR information fed to me (and perhaps to reporters also) to get me to buy stuff.
- Newspapers have money, and are often run by white men. The lacking diversity of op-ed pages in the nation’s newspapers has been widely lamented — few women and writers of color figure into these pages, although this has been changing for the better. However, I think that many people perceive newspapers as old boy’s clubs, where the old boys hire and pay people who are like them to produce the news, which makes newspapers sound suspiciously like the establishment they are supposed to be covering.
So, I can pay to read inaccurate biased news written by white guys that subliminally tells me to buy stuff (MSM), or for free I can read inaccurate biased news written by a diverse population that is not unilaterally motivated by money (Internet).
Somewhat reductive, I know, but is there any wonder that folks have turned to media on the Internet?