Newspapers have been quick to blame the internet for their economic woes, pointing out the people are now getting their news for free, and some of the larger newspapers around the country are considering asking the US Government for some bailout money. Seems as though every big corporation has their hands out today. We have become a county of people with a distaste for helping the poor but who thinks nothing of spending billions of dollars on corporate welfare.
The fact of the matter is that people who wished to get their news free have always been able to do so from television. The arrival of the television did not affect newspaper sales, nor would the advent of the Internet had the news reporting agencies not forgotten that what they do is a sacred trust.
Both newspaper and television news reporting have fallen flat. They have sold out to convenience and economy. The mainstream media has become little more than talking heads for politicians and cheerleaders for special interests groups. The bulk of the news, the really interesting, earth shaking events are now being reported by bloggers: writers on the ground through personal blogs or venues like Associated Content.
People get their news from the internet because they are getting a truer, more accurate description of the facts, and the news agencies have no one to blame for this but themselves. Once upon a time the same story reported from one paper to another varied according to the experience of the reporter and his access to the facts on the ground. The days of the rugged newspaper man or reporter on the ground, on location asking the difficult questions for the sake of the news are over.
Today, when we see news reporters on the television news they are simply talking heads at the location of the story, reporting as though they had actually been there to witness to the event. Most of the news is sanitized, censored, prewritten and repackaged by two news feeding agencies: API and Reuters. There is nothing left for reporters to do than to read from the prompt.
The newspaper and the news reporting agencies have been at the foundation of our democracy. Without the free-flow of information the masses can be manipulated by political or corporate agenda. When the Bush administration balked at the (rightfully) negative press his administration was receiving from news agencies about the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the mainstream media took that as an order to knock it off. Most people had to find out about the administrations lack of caritas and disregard for human life through other media outlets. With the exception of a few brave and small newspapers in small towns, the Bush Administration went on largely unchallenged by the mainstream media.
On February 14, 2003 a Florida Appeals Court ruled that it is not illegal for a major media organization to lie, conceal or distort information. The court reversed the $425,000 jury verdict of 2000 that was in favor of a journalist who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew to be false information. This important precedence, that a news reporting agency is not obligated in any way to report the truth, was not reported by the mainstream media. We can only guess why.
On September 2008, you might remember receiving the anti-Muslim propaganda in the form of a DVD called Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West which was distributed for free, by the thousands inside of major newspapers of swing states across the country. That a newspaper would do such a thing is unremarkable. Everyone knows that today’s newspapers often tell people what to think, instead of simply reporting news and allowing readers to decide. What is remarkable, at least to me, is that only a couple of small-town newspapers reported that on Friday, September 26th, 2008 – as a result of that newspaper distributed DVD – American terrorists sprayed an unknown chemical agent through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people had gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. Wait, it gets worse.
The room that the chemical was sprayed into was used as a child care room where babies and children are kept while their mothers pray. Many of them had difficulty breathing and had to be assisted by emergency service personnel at the scene. This was only reported in small presses, and only in passing. None of the major newspapers would touch it. Again, we can only guess why.
There are literally hundreds of similarly important stories that go unreported by the mainstream media. Shouldn’t these stories have been published? Aren’t these stories more important than Britney Spears shaving her head?
Reporting the news is a sacred trust, and the newspapers no longer deserve the honor of being the sentinels of that trust. To get the real news today, the conscientious citizen reads foreign news sources, the Public Broadcasting System, bloggers on the ground with their cameras who report the events as they unfold before them, or in places like Associated Content which provides a platform for people everywhere.
So do the newspaper giants deserve a bailout for a job badly done? Should we reward them for turning on the trust that Americans place on them to deliver the truth? I don’t believe so, but I will give them a general piece of advice which may help them survive this economic downturn: Report the truth. Get out there, and dig, ask hard questions, uncover the story like the reporters that came before you used to. You work for the American PEOPLE, not your advertisers, corporations or politicians. Some of my heroes growing up were the reporters who spoke to power, who risked their lives and social alienation to bring people the truth. Get back to doing the job of your predecessors – actually report the news. And please, stop blaming the internet for your failure to do your jobs.