Monday, May 19, 2008

Journalism in Corporate America

Am I being an alarmist?
by Charlie Leck

The LA Times review of the new book by Bill Moyers, Democracy in America, is extremely positive.

"There's a Jeremiah among us and his name is Bill Moyers… Noting that right-wing polemicists have long tried to tar 'fact-based reporting that undermines their worldview' as 'liberal advocacy journalism,' of which he is among the country's prominent practitioners, he responds, 'All I can say is that if reporting what happens to ordinary people because of events beyond their control, and the indifference of government to their fate, is 'liberal,' I plead guilty.'"

A good friend from New Hampshire responded to my last blog, suggesting that I'm being a bit of an alarmist about the demise of our American democracy. I would response and argue that I am not. The democracy we have known in this country has been severely eroded and further deterioration is on the horizon. Unless, of course, we do something about it and there are possibilities – meaning the cup is half full.

In his most recent book, Moyers on Democracy, Bill Moyers has a great deal to say about Journalism and the "news industry" in America that ought to make us sit up and take notice.

"I wish I could say that journalists in general are showing the same interest in uncovering the dangerous linkages thwarting this democracy. It is not for lack of honest and courageous individuals who would risk their careers to speak truth to power -- a modest risk compared to those of some journalists in authoritarian countries who have been jailed or murdered for the identical "crime." But our journalists are not in control of the instruments they play. As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and networks, and profit rather than product becomes the focus of corporate effort, news organizations -- particularly in television -- are folded into entertainment divisions. The "news hole" in the print media shrinks to make room for advertisements, and stories needed by informed citizens working together are pulled in favor of the latest celebrity scandals because the media moguls have decided that uncovering the inner workings of public and private power is boring and will drive viewers and readers away to greener pastures of pabulum. Good reporters and editors confront walls of resistance in trying to place serious and informative reports over which they have long labored. Media owners who should be sounding the trumpets of alarm on the battlements of democracy instead blow popular ditties through tin horns, undercutting the basis for their existence and their First Amendment rights." (Bill Moyers: Moyers on Democracy [Doubleday, New York, 2008])

That is pretty much all that needs to be said – except to emphasize something positive in all this. As newspapers and main-line broadcast news services become more controlled by corporations, a host of alternative news outlets have developed and they are producing some rather good reporting. For a time we called it the "underground news" and now we've settled on a more compatible tag, "alternative news."

There are extraordinarily good on-line news sources, such as AlterNet, Slate and Salon. My main news source remains the NY Times, but I never finish the day without checking in on AlterNet and I always get to Slate at least once during the week.

Moyers, in a speech before the National Conference of Media Reform, pleads for more alternative broadcast news sources and he expresses his fear that "this country is going to die from too many lies." That's strong stuff. In the speech he really plugs Amy Goodman's extraordinary TV show, Democracy Now. If you don't watch this show, you're missing one of the great ones. There is probably no more important broadcast source for alternative news. Watch this video in which Amy Goodman explains how "Democracy Now" began.

The Real News is another of these important alternative news sources. If it's not broadcast in your area, go on-line to watch its archived videos or subscribe to its podcasts.

Indeed, the nature of the local newspaper in America has changed. If it weren't for the sports section and the Sunday opinion pages, I'd drop my subscription to our local paper. I check in regularly with a local alternative, on-line news source call MinnPost. The writers there are much freer to tell the "whole story." As Moyers points out in the quotation above, it is difficult for writers these days to go to the heart of the story when, at the heart, they encounter large corporate interests that also have some stake in the news reporting business.

Take a look at Bill Moyers, talking about his book, on the Daily Show or watch this You Tube video of Moyers in a WNYC Radio interview.

I'm not suggesting you abandon your regular, normal news sources, but I'm urging you to expand your horizons and get different views and more expansive coverage. Had we strong, alternative news sources 5 years ago, we probably would not have gone into the Iraq War. An informed public would not have allowed it.

Next: Moyers on government that is non-responsive.

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