What is true in the American news?

Freedom of the press is in trouble in the United States. Thanks to pressure from the government to reveal sources and more reporters facing jail time, we have dropped to 46th in the world, according to a study by Reporters Without Borders. There are fewer newspapers and more journalists laid off. Television news is controlled by companies who answer more to advertisers than viewers. The internet is flooded with opinion makers and rumors. If the government controls the reporters and social media controls the headlines, how does anyone figure out what is true in the American news?

I admit that I’ve become part of the problem. On Facebook, I’ll see an article with an inflammatory headline, like “Fukushima radiation will kill all the fish by 2015.” I’ll click the link, read a little, start to get angry, and then share that link with all my friends because I think it’s that important. Later, after I’ve calmed down enough to think about what I just posted, I’ll question the validity of the article. Who actually wrote it? Where did that person get their facts? Were there any actual facts written, or was it just opinion? But it’s too late. I already shared, starting a heated discussion amongst my friends about how bad Fukushima is and how we’re all going to die from radiation poisoning. Four of my friends shared it with their friends. The dialogue will continue, even though there might be only a shred of real information in the article.

Who has time to evaluate every report that races through Facebook? And even when we find the time, how can we figure out what is true, and what is not? How do we evaluate the magnitude of the information we access every day?

The internet has increased our need for journalists, people who are trained to search out the truth and share it with us. We need people we can trust to report on events. And we need our press to be free from government pressure and corporate control. How else will we understand what is happening in the world and how it truly effects us? Freedom of the press is written into our constitution; we should be furious that we’re not in the top ten, or even the top twenty (although we’re ranked higher than Italy, so I guess we can brag about that). We have incredible access to information, but does it matter if our right to understand that information is impeded?

I will try very hard not to spread rumor and opinion as news online. Unfortunately that means I’ll probably spread more jokes and pictures of cats. I’m afraid that might be another trap; in fear of sharing false information, I may stop spreading information at all.

Journalists! We need you!

 

 

2 thoughts on “What is true in the American news?

  1. Good point! A free press is such an important cornerstone of democracy. The state of journalism these days is really depressing. I don’t blame it all on politics, some of it is the changing mediums, the internet, blogging, the 24/7 cable news cycle. It’s a brave new world out there.

  2. It’s a confusing media landscape these days, no doubt. But I think in this country the culprit is not government clampdown on journalists, but corporate control of the flow of information. It has been for quite some time, and the stranglehold that big corporations have on an ever-shrinking pool of media outlets tightens daily.

    There were about 44,000 reporter jobs in the U.S. in 2012 — that includes radio and broadcast, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/reporters-correspondents-and-broadcast-news-analysts.htm#tab-1). Ten years from now, that number will shrink by 7,000, or 14 percent, the bureau says.

    I think that’s conservative. I’m betting more will be booted out of the business.

    And why is that, exactly, with the deluge of information there is to sort through each day that we somehow will have fewer people trained to do just that?

    Money.

    As a handful of corporations (http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart) continue to buy up more newspapers, radio and television stations – with the help of a limp-wristed regulatory atmosphere that has allowed more media consolidations than at any time previous – the number of independent voices gets smaller and smaller.

    These corporations (I mean, these “people”) buy up media outlets, gut them by shedding the experienced (read: expensive) journalists (http://www.rappler.com/business/42487-thomson-reuters-mass-layoffs) and replacing them with children right out of college who are willing to work for dog food wages (http://gawker.com/5829589/average-starting-journalist-pay-30k-if-youre-lucky) because they’re still mainlining the mythos that “you don’t go into journalism to get rich; you go because it’s a calling’’ that makes them ready fodder for an entire career of economic manipulation, long, erratic hours and caffeine abuse.

    Why are newsrooms throughout the country being gutted (https://www.facebook.com/newscuts) like this?

    Money.

    News costs money. Period.

    Just as medical care costs money and food production costs money, so too does good, reliable news coverage. Those bureaus in Tripoli and London cost money to maintain. The correspondents in those bureaus – the people who have been in news for 30 years and know the regions and the players better than some of their families – arrogantly expect to be able to pay for their kids’ college education AND the food that helps get them there.

    But its not like news outlets aren’t making money (http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/business-news/the-biz-blog/191683/gannetts-good-earnings-report-could-be-a-turning-point-for-newspaper-organizations/). They’re just not making the obscene amounts of money they used to, which seems to make the bloated execs (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/03/29/1197862/-More-corporate-greed-Gannett-CEO-has-46-million-termination-package) of those corporations very cranky indeed (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/02/06/aol-chief-cuts-401k-benefits-blames-obamacare/).

    So you’ve got fewer newsrooms generally, and those that remain are sparsely populated by recent college grads who suffer from a lack of institutional knowledge in the form of veteran reporters to mentor them.

    Journalism used to be a field where the best and the brightest youngsters would claw their way to, say, the Metro Desk of a newspaper, which was populated by jaded veteran reporters who had very little time or inclination to learn your name for the first six months. That “cub’’ reporter would be given all the assignments no one else wanted: the hometown parades, the festivals, the zoning board meetings, the first goddamn snowfall of the year story. They would work weekends, holidays, nights and write the stories where it would matter the least if he/she fucked them up, which they would. Inevitably.

    It used to be okay for them to fuck up stories. In fact, it was expected, which is why they were never tapped in their first few years for anything important. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be a good reporter. The children were being brought along, slowly, usually by very smart, if constipated and generally humorless, editors.

    Two years later, you might be invited downstairs to the shitty cafeteria with one of the more social veterans for extraordinarily bad coffee. This is the newsroom equivalent to being “made.’’

    Now, newsrooms are missing one half of their traditional apprenticeship-like system. And where does that leave you?

    Curation (http://www.mediabistro.com/joblistings/jobview.asp?joid=162239&page=1), aggregation (http://www.reddit.com/), and the latest abomination: “Listicles.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/14/sneezing-facts-didnt-know_n_4936611.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063)

    It also creates a situation ripe for media manipulation (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/03/11/first_kiss_video_tatia_pilieva_films_strangers_who_are_also_actors_models.html).

    The reason cub reporters used to be brought along slowly is because its far easier to fleece a 20-year-old with zero life experience than it is a 45-year-old jaded reporter whose 20-year career has been filled with less-than-truthful politicians and slick marketers trying to move coverage in this direction or that. The children simply don’t know the difference, which is why companies increasingly are showing us that fleecing the media is super easy (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304585004579417533278962674).

    There are bright spots (http://www.propublica.org/), here (njspotlight.com) and there (npr.org), which show some promise for a new, or at least different, model of news organization. I hope that continues.

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