Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Death of Journalism

Journalism died in 2008 after an extended illness. The grand old profession had it's roots in the messengers, couriers, and town criers of old. The object was to report the news. Advancing technology over the years, from print, to wire services, radio, television, and the internet allowed journalism to grow and thrive. Sadly, it had shown signs of failing health since the mid seventies and died an ugly death this political season.

By definition, Journalism is the profession of the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media. The word was included in Webster's dictionary in 1829 describing "writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation." When most of us think of journalism, we think of a "reporter", one who uncovers the facts and reports them to the public through his or her particular media.

Editorially, the management of various media enterprises can also present their points of view on current issues and report on the actions of the government, public officials, corporate executives, interest groups, media houses, and those who hold social power or authority. Journalism is described as "The'Fourth Estate.

In 1841,Thomas Carlyle wrote in On Heroes and Hero Worship these words:

". . . The affairs of the nation were there deliberated and decided; what we were to do as a nation. But does not, though the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. The requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there. Add only, that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized; working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy virtually
extant will insist on becoming palpably extant. . . ."

Generally, journalists are expected to be responsible and objective in their analysis, and are supposed to refrain from personal biases or prejudices. However, many today feel that objectivity is a myth. Grade the News, an American website, identified seven yardsticks on the basis of which it judges the standards of some local media houses' news quality. These yardsticks are :

  • newsworthiness

  • context

  • explanation

  • local relevance

  • civic contribution

  • enterprise

  • fairness

You can draw your own conclusions how the various broadcast and print media today are measuring up to these yardsticks. I have already stated my opinion, for what it's worth.

"Investigative Journalism" seems to have been spawned during the Watergate era. It somehow evolved to the point that the "reporters became the story". Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post became celebrities and the subject of a popular movie. As a result, men and women who had previously simply been "reporters" of the news seemed to begin to seek the spotlight for themselves.

Speaking at a national news correspondents convention in 1974, President Nixon allowed for a Q. & A. session. He called upon CBS' Dan Rather for a question. As the White House Correspondent for CBS, Rather had been doggedly pursuing the Watergate story. When Rather's name was spoken, the audience erupted into applause.

"Are you running for something, Mr. Rather?" Nixon quipped with a smile.

With a look of distain on his face, Rather countered, "No, Mr. President. Are you?"

That type of insolence has spread like an epidemic in recent years throughout the modern news media.

The most alarming thing to me about the demise of journalism is how the line between reporting and opinion has become almost unintelligible. Instead of reporting the news, some of our major broadcast media have crossed the line of objectivity. NBC is a case in point. Somewhere in the top floors of the General Electric Building on Rockefeller Plaza, upper management made the decision to not only report on the Presidential Election, but to influence the outcome of said election, by their unabashed support of the Democratic Candidate, Senator Obama. The news organization that gave us professional reporters like Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and John Chancellor, now brings us clowns like Keith Olbermann, disguised as news reporters – openly cheering for a particular candidate. Olbermann and Chris Matthews are pundits – commentators – opinion givers. That's fine, but when the network advanced them to be reporters at the conventions, debates, and during election returns, one should be able to expect some semblance of impartiality. Not so. They might as well have been on the DNC's payroll.

Fox News is just as bad on the other side of the ledger. Roger Ailes and his staff are most certainly sympathetic to the Republican cause. And why not? The only thing "fair and balanced" that Fox offers, is a more conservative alternative to the left leaning reporting of NBC, CBS, and ABC. Same stuff – different flavor.

Do you ever long for the days when John Cameron Swazye simply reported the news? Are you as tired of the network propaganda as I? Why can't they give us the news, and delineate clearly on what is reported news and what is opinion? What would you give for a modern day Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, or Huntley-Brinkley report, to bring you a clear and concise view of what is happening in the nation and the world?

Alas, I am afraid that type of journalism has gone the way of S&H Green Stamps.

Goodbye old friend. Rest in Peace.


Anonymous said...

BJ I concede that Keith Obermann and Chris Matthews are politically biased, however, Fox News is both politically and racially biased. CNN plays a more middle road position. Fortunately, the youth of America have begun to examine the philosophical positions of their elders and found them wanting. We know that most politicians are forced to embellish the truth, positively or negatively and we as citizens should thoroughly examine their positions. Too many voters rely upon what politicians say rather than thoroughly examining their background. Barack Obama was unfairly characterized by many, however, the truth given time, finally surfaced.

God Bless!!

Jack Washington

C.J. Adkins said...

Hey Jack. Great to hear from you and I am happy that you are reading my blog. I appreciate your comments.
I will agree with you that Fox news is also politically biased (and said so in my post). I have not sensed any prevailing racial bias, but I am not saying it is non existent. I also agree that Barack Obama has been unfairly catagorized in many ways. The man is intelligent, charismatic, and an excellent communicator. Although I feel he is somewhat inexperienced, I have no doubt he can handle the job. Furthermore, all of us can be proud that an African American has finally been elected President of the United States.
I personally voted for Senator McCain because I felt him to be more experienced and more qualified to lead our nation, especially in the war on terror. However, Senator McCain would certainly not have been my top choice for President.
Senator Obama is our President. I am praying for him and will support him as such. I pray that God will give him wisdom to lead us through a very difficult time.
My main point is that the News Media should report the news, and not be politically active. They are in a position to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, and that is great. But those things should be done "editorially", rather than under the guise of "reporting".
Again, thanks for your comments. I hope we will get to see you again when we visit Dumaguete in the last two weeks of February!
God bless.