Journalism may be a relic in history

by Paul William Tenny

On some days I like the idea of citizen journalism because it returns us to our roots of one person who saw or knows something, and they just can't help but feel that other people need to know too. That hasn't been the goal or the reality of journalism for a very long time, where it's not much more than just your typical business nowadays. High visibility equals big advertising dollars and opportunity to be "famous" by being known. That leads to organizations pushing stories that have higher entertainment value than news value, and individuals seeking out these jobs so they can hear themselves talk on TV.
I don't think anybody coming out of college says to themselves, "I want to work at MSNBC or FOX or work on the nightly news so I can discovery the big story and win a Pulitzer."

You don't see network or cable news win those awards now -- if ever -- you've got to pick up an old fashioned news paper. The TV guys just follow the leader. If you pay attention to the news at all, you almost certainly heard all about the Walter Reed scandal, the NSA spying scandal, the CIA black-site/torture scandal, but did you read those stories first in the Washington Post, or the New York Times? Pitty, because real reporters at those papers were the ones who did the hard work, and got none of the "popular" credit. They did however all win Pulitzers for excellence in investigative journalism. The other result was that the Bush administration has been trying to put several of them in prison, and many conservatives in this country openly called for their executions.

And on its best day, citizen journalism is a lot like that (without the executions.) Somebody found out something, and wrote all about it so the rest of us could know too. Not for money, or fame, but because the important things aren't always the most sexy things. On its not-so-good days it's little more than uneducated rants repeated by more ignorant people who feel helpless about the problems they're facing -- that we're all facing -- and don't know any better than to lash out.

The United States however is not alone in facing these challenges, both of asking that citizen journalists use their brains when they write, and that the public and government respect and tolerate the people that expose our shameful secrets for our own good. Our supposedly new ally and recently liberated, former terrorist haven, Afghanistan, even under the thumb of the free-press capital of the world, is executing journalists as we speak for writing about matters of religion and marriage with a critical eye. I wonder how we can take the moral high road when indiscriminately invading sovereign Middle Eastern countries to rid of it one kind of evil while actively supporting arguably much greater evils without so much as closing our eyes so that we don't have to see it.

Real reporters make sure that we have to see it, because when we're forced to watch, we tend to do something about it.

On some levels, horrors like this are covered by the mainstream press and citizen journalists alike, but they are something in common that we should all find profoundly disturbing: the gate keepers won't let the important stories through. It's not enough to give people a place to write about important things if those are not the hub of attention. Media consolidation is partly to blame for this, with a single company only interested in profits and not product, owning newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and essentially a few players controlling everything we see and hear. If one of them decides to play entertainment over news, the other few will follow because that's what businesses do best.

The people must inarguably share some of that fault. Businesses react to what the people do, and they wouldn't give preference to entertainment if the people didn't watch it, read it, and buy it. Ultimately the people are the boss and it's up to them to demand better from the bottom on up in the media empire. Without that, things don't figure to change on their own very soon.

Or ever.
in Feature, News


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