Is the press in a crisis?
Some people are just now noticing that the news organizations have ceased reporting the news. Newspapers, magazines, television, blogs, and the radio are the instruments of partisan political skirmishes, rather than seekers of the truth.
We have a crisis in America. It is a threat to us that is more dangerous than ISIS, more terminal than stage IV cancer and is not an outside threat. At risk is our freedom.
The statement above might sound melodramatic to the average reader. That is because it is a sensationalized statement and an example of the hyperbole found in every newspaper, or on broadcast media in America. It is an example of what is wrong with Journalism. Another fact; in America hype, spin, and propaganda have always been part of the news.
News organizations have not ceased being seekers of truth. How does one stop doing something one has never done with any regularity? If you want a case in point, take a look at what has happened in America in the past few years. If we try to label Donald Trump as “conservative,” and omit his ultra-Nationalism and envy of Fascism, then we are engaging in self-deception. Even the mainstream media is partaking in the Trump ruse by omitting his approach to governing.
That does not stop the news biz from stating lofty ideals about themselves. Those of us who are scribes lock onto Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Edward Carrington in 1787 while Jefferson was in Paris:
“…the basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. but (sic) I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”
Extremely noble words. As scholars of the third President will tell you, Jefferson was not such a fan of the press in private. On June 11, 1807, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Norvell;
“… Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle…”
The use of language may be different, but two-hundred-ten years later, President Donald Trump tweets:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
The difference is Thomas Jefferson’s letter was private correspondence, and Donald Trump was using a bully platform to try and undermine one of our pillars of Democracy, the Fourth Estate.
Perhaps Trump has been a bit kinder to the Press than Jefferson, who instructed his Attorney General to prosecute some newspaper editors for sedition. Let’s say no more about that lest we give The Donald some new ideas.
We do have a media problem, and the problem is you and me.
The problem is not created by power-hungry editors trying to put forward a political agenda. The problem is the marketplace. Consumers of news tend to read the media that validate their beliefs. We do not like hearing the objective truth. We want our biases confirmed, and in today’s environment, many want their hate stoked as if that fire did not burn hot enough. It is not just conservatives running to Fox and Sinclair news; the problem is on the left as well.
I know this from my personal experience. I am a former Republican who has joined the Democratic Party. My articles that condemn the GOP while taking Donald Trump to the woodshed, and offer facts to back up my accusations are better read than tomes providing a balanced point of view. That bias usually shapes my articles.
All this freedom of the press exists within the framework of capitalism. The news is a business, just like the thousands of other firms in our free-market system. They have to make a buck when all is said and done.
Technology has changed the news biz. The innovative are making money, while those without the vision to see new opportunities are stuck in the past, watching their fortunes wither.
The first question a publisher in the news game asks is “What do the readers want to hear,” and not, “What do the readers need to hear?” The media business is as targeted as cars, refrigerators, and fashion. Many on the left criticize sellers of news for putting profits above people. However, they offer no new ideas on where the money is to come from to run a news organization. If the Government is involved financially, the news becomes even more propaganda than it is now. News organizations must stay independent.
Once in awhile, a newspaper will set gain aside in favor of truth when controversies arise, but it does not happen often. The reason being subscribers want to be validated, and the news organization wants to stay in business. No money trees are growing in the accounting department, so caution is exercised to make sure subscribers and advertisers do not walk away due to content.
Things are dire at the local level
There will always be large news organizations that have a national focus. Where things are desperate are at the local level. Local news is changing too. The cost of print and distribution is expensive relative to the internet.
Most newspapers do not know how to make the transition. They know one way of doing business. Once they are asked to get outside of that model, they are in uncharted and dangerous waters.
While it may look bleak for local news, that spells opportunity for entrepreneurs. Just this week, Warren Buffet who has extensive newspaper holdings, outsourced management of his media operations to Lee Enterprises, who has successfully made the transition to the new market realities.
Just remember as those of us who are not on the far right complain about Fox and Sinclair news, as we watch ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC, this problem with biased news is not the creation of the news organizations. It is a response to what you and I are telling news organizations we want to consume.
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