Monday, June 28, 2010

Journalism: The Homogenization And Dumbing Down Of America ...

I'm sorry, what year is this?

Isn't it feeling an awful lot like "1984"?

I debated whether to write a post about Dave Weigel and his very bad day at the Washington Post. I tweeted about it, at length, because I had far too much to say than would fit in 140 characters.

And then, this morning, I read this post, which says a lot of what I want to say, so I thought I might just let Scott speak for me.

But that's the problem, isn't it?

Too many people have disengaged from discourse. Too many people are too weary or lazy or intimidated or scared to speak for themselves.

And look where it's getting us.

Saturday, my friend Marce stopped by. We met, many, many years ago, at the Chicago Tribune. And we hadn't seen each other in several years. But back in January, I was thinning my book collection and offered the orphans to good homes, and Marce was interested in several, so on Saturday, at long last, he swung by to pick them up.

The conversation never lagged. We talked for seven hours but we probably could have logged seven more.

And not everything we talked about had to do with the news business, but a lot of it did.

I used to refer to the Tribune as "the Hotel California of journalism."

I did manage to leave, but I never really checked out of the news business. No one does. Once it's in your blood, it stays. You continue to care. You stay on top of goings-on. You never cancel your subscription to Romenesko.

Given that I continue to look at the world at least partially through a journalistic lens, I don't have a sense of how big the Dave Weigel story was outside of my sphere. A large portion of my Twitter feed comprises journalists and commentators and news feeds. (When we lost our World Cup match on Saturday, I found out about it on Twitter. I gave up checking Yahoo! News to see how long it would take for anyone there to post a banner.)

But I read the ombudsman's column in the Post and I scoffed. And then, as I mentioned, I tweeted. This is what I wrote:

RT @markos Dear Washington Post, Progressives are also done with your paper. <- The linked piece contains one of ...

... the most stupid notions ever. Quoting Raju Narisetti, “But we’re living in an era when maybe we need to add a level” of inquiry ...

... he said. “It may be in our interests to ask potential reporters: 'In private... have you expressed any opinions that would make ...

... it difficult for you to do your job.' ” Um, that would bring the potential pool of candidates down to exactly ZERO.

Yes, journalists need to be objective in the reporting of news. But journalists are citizens first, journalists second. They have opinions.

Later, I tweeted this:

This made me both sigh for the sentiment and laugh for the presentation. / RT @cdashiell Katharine Graham, she dead. (Thanks, @pattidigh.)>

I love the succinctness. Katharine Graham, she dead indeed.

On Friday, the Washington Post became much less of a force of journalism, and now stands, in my opinion, as the latest example of the decline of the news business in America.

I don't receive a print edition of any newspaper anymore. Of the local offerings, I find nothing worth reading, including the Tribune, and while I still love the experience of reading a newspaper, I can't justify the cost, both economically and environmentally, of home delivery of the New York Times. I read it online. However, when the day comes that it starts charging for access – as all newspapers should do and should have been doing all along – I will pony up that fee.

This post could easily evolve into a screed about Fox News, but anyone who reads this blog knows by now how I feel about it. So I'll reiterate this one point alone: Fox News is not a news organization; it is a propaganda machine with no regard for the truth and devoid of ethics.

Fox News, therefore, is not a player in the news space, because it does not broadcast news. It broadcasts lies and distortions. It pains me that it has a right to do so, but such is the greatness of our country.

What pains me even more, though, is that there are so many people, legions of people, who heed the word of Fox, chapter and verse. They do not look to other news sources. Apparently, they do not want to know facts. They only want to see their views reflected back to them, day after day.

To paraphrase Alice, in Wonderland: Fringier and fringier.

I am heartened by the fact that Sarah Palin has so few Twitter followers relative to so many others. I just checked her Twitter page. She has 180,080 followers.

Britney Spears has, as of this moment, 5,233,256.

You see my point.

As much as I do not want Sarah to enjoy any sort of audience for her idiocy (even my Republican friends allow that the woman is dangerously stupid), I also find it fascinating and grim that so few people follow her and yet more than five million hang on Britney Spears' every character.

Titles like Time and Newsweek struggle to stay afloat while gossip rags go gangbusters.

Christ, even John McCain (or one of John McCain's people) posted a tweet recently to Snooki and invoked The Situation.

Really? My respect for McCain has dwindled over the years, but even so, a mashup of a United States Senator and the cast of "Jersey Shore" is one I do not want to see.

It really shouldn't be too much to expect that citizens of this country bother to know what is going on in the world. Those who think that the media is solely liberal now are mistaken. And there is still good journalism being done. The McChrystal/Rolling Stone spectacle last week proves that. Though, that story is much less about McChrystal's snark and much more about the hopeless situation in Afghanistan. But the snark was sexier.

The other night, as Marcel and I chatted about the news, I mentioned that I grew up watching Bill and Walter on Channel 2. If you're around my age or older and hail from this part of the world, you know exactly who I mean, no last names necessary. (For the rest of you: Kurtis and Jacobson, respectively.)

I grew up watching the news. I grew up reading the paper. I remember The Daily Calumet in the house, but I remember the Chicago Sun-Times more.

I remember reading Royko. I often didn't understand his columns. But I read them. Because everyone read Royko. Period.

Today, perhaps I'm a consumer of news because it was my livelihood for a number of years. But I like to think that even if it wasn't, I'd still want to know. I'd still have a curiosity about the world that didn't begin with Britney and end with Brangelina.

Times are changing at a whiplash-inducing pace. Fifteen years ago, while at the Tribune, I interviewed Bill Kurtis for a story and I remember us talking about the buzz that newspapers had become dinosaurs and would soon go away.

Bill didn't agree with that prophecy. "Why not?", I asked.

"Because you can't take your laptop on the El," he said.

This past December, I was in his office and I mentioned that conversation. And right on cue, he pulled his iPhone out of his pocket.

And scrolled through some of his apps, including the one from the AP.

On a device much smaller than a laptop.

Once a newsman, always a newsman.

But this country needs everyone to care, just like it needs everyone to vote. Society relies on engagement.

We don't have to agree, but we do have to give a damn.


Blogger Editor52 said...

Interesting. I've been a working journalist for 30 years and I happen to believe that you DO give up your right to many opinions when you choose this profession. I learned that lesson many, many years ago as a young reporter, when I exercised my Constitutional right and voted in an Illinois primary (you must declare a party to vote there) and some elected officials I covered looked up how I declared and used that as evidence of my bias. Of course, I have opinions, political and otherwise. My friends and family know this and my views are probably not hard to guess. And yes, it's difficult to keep them out of a public space. It's a struggle, in fact. But it's one I wage every day and still think it's an important part about being a journalist. The thing that fascinated me about the Weigel story was the assumption that a listserv or anything on e-mail is private. It's not, and what this really sad story serves is to hit that home, again, to all of us.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I would agree that blatant biases need to be checked at the door or any newspaper depending on what's being covered. For instance, when I worked at the Trib, we had to sign an ethics policy every year that spelled out that we were not allowed to be involved in organizations outside of the paper that could create a conflict of interest. Understandable, of course.

But if it would have told me i couldn't vote because that would imply a bias one way or the other? I would have said, "See ya!"

Expecting journalists to divorce themselves of opinion doesn't seem so different to me than expecting priests to remain celibate. It doesn't work. Our biology doesn't allow it. How can you move through the world and not have beliefs that inform your views? That reality applies to everyone. So from whence should journalists come?

12:46 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

You naval must be the size of Lake Erie!

9:22 PM  
Blogger Editor52 said...

Trust me. There are a ton of journalists out here who DON'T vote because of the work they do. Seriously. One of the most famous ones -- Len Downey at the Washington Post, who didn't vote to avoid a conflict of interest. All of life is about choices. I've signed ethics statements nearly everywhere I've worked. I don't think the profession will ever be lacking for people who are passionate about the truth just because they need to make some trade-offs in their lives.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I'm not saying trade-offs don't need to be made. If some want to give up their right to vote, that's their choice.

But to expect to find a journalist to hire who has never expressed an opinion in private that would make it difficult to do their job, which is what Narisetti said, strikes me as asinine.

I've never met a journalist who lives such a monastic existence.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to watch FOX just to get the rest of the story. How else would you get the other side? What's really in the health care bill. Irans nukes. employment numbers. It goes on and on. I watch both and form my own opinion, but not Keith Olbermann, that man scares the hell out of me. He's got real issues, especially with women it seams. What's next on his show my dad can beat up your dad?
Cuz Dan

12:52 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Dan, the sad truth about Fox is that it's not "the rest of the story." It's whatever suits Fox and the Republican agenda. It's the most blatant bias I've ever seen in "news." They lie. They distort. They edit footage to completely change the original message.

This is serious shit.

It's not a news organization. It's a propaganda machine. The fact that people view it as legitimate is a huge part of why this country is so ill-informed.

I'll grant you that Olbermann can get a little absurd sometimes. I only tune in from time to time. But Rachel Maddow is one of the best journalists working today. I know a lot of people on the Right won't even look at her because she's on MSNBC, but I challenge anyone to watch her reports and dispute anything she says. She'll be reporting from Afghanistan next week. I don't believe Gretchen Carlson has made that trip. Even as she says what she does is exactly the role of the President of the United States, making "hard" decisions.

And ohmygod, did you see last week when they were trying so hard to nail Obama for the Gulf with "Obama appointed a successor to McChrystal so quickly, why is it taking him so long to fix the Gulf?" And they introduced Newt Gingrich and asked him if that was a substantive question, and Newt scoffed and said no, that there was no comparison to be drawn.

Of course there wasn't. But oh, how they try to make everything about how Obama is evil. It's asinine.

ABC is still my go-to source for news. Diane Sawyer is a hard-ass. And Jake Tapper is the one who brought independent fact-checking to "This Week."

1:11 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

By the by, I know the Right dismissed Media Matters, but take a gander at the front page. It's not making shit up. This is how out of whack things are:

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mass media is in Obamas pocket and the majority of the country would agree with me. You can't even ask that twit Gibbs a tough question he'll just make a joke out of it or whatever. The country is in 2 wars the gulf is filling with oil. BP being a huge contributor to the Obamas, and our president goes golfing, so in following Obamas lead that's what I'm going to do, not worry about it enjoy some concerts and make more Tee times. Maybe that will help our economy, oh wait this is the summer of recovery. This guy is an Fing joke. Bidens good for a laugh and Pelosi OMG! Cuz Dan

1:46 PM  
Blogger Beth said...


Dan, I can refute every single thing you just said and/or point to a near-exact Bush equivalent.

But there's no point, is there?

You'll believe what you want to believe.

And that's exactly what frustrates me so. The facts don't seem to matter anymore.

But just for kicks: The country is in two wars STARTED BY BUSH.

The Gulf is filling with oil because of a lack of regulation ENCOURAGED BY BUSH.

When we were just embarking on the "war on terror," Bush made a statement about it from a GOLF COURSE and then said, "Now watch this drive!"

We were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs UNDER BUSH, and now we're adding jobs.

They're all facts. How does all of this make Obama an f-ing joke when it was perfectly fine under Bush?!

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You made my point for me where's the hope and change? Guantanamo is still open. 2 wars poorly managed now. I like how people on the left are taking credit for Iraq now. Now we are broke and every family of 4 now owes like 600K. But it don't matter November is going to be a landslide. Bush Bush Bush Cuz Dan

2:04 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Final thought:

For those who think Obama is a joke, now you know exactly how we felt for 8 years under Bush. Except Obama didn't mire us in two wars and let Wall Street collapse.

And with, I'm excusing myself from this discussion. It serves no purpose. Those who think Obama is evil will not be swayed, nor will they see how we got into this mess.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

OK, Dan, your last comment made me chuckle.

I think there's be more "hope and change" if the Republicans hadn't decided - and announced! - that it's their strategy to just oppose every single thing the Dems try to accomplish.

Gee, thanks, guys. It's not like our country's in a crisis. Filibustering just about everything is clearly the way to go.

We can circle back in November and see how things go. In all seriousness, if the Right keeps putting the likes of Rand "Businesses should have the right to discriminate" Paul and Sharron "Sometimes rape and incest are part of God's plan" Angle, the Rs are going to have a hard time. Moderates decide elections. I think moderates will be hard-pressed to vote for that kind of extremism.

OK, *now* I gotta get some stuff done.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's do a world apology tour then come home and sue your own state of Arizona for trying to uphold the law. Now we have MS-13 in our community, lovely these folks are killers plain and simple. My neighbor, a policeman told me the ambulance that was called to the scene refused him cause he threatened to kill their families.
Me too gotta go carpet guy and pool guy are here, Cuz Dan

2:29 PM  

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