Bending the Third Rail
Because We Should, We Can, We Do
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Hollowed Out
There is a four part series currently running on PBS's great show, "Frontline". This series focuses on the media and specifically how the media has been impacted over the past six years.

I watched part one last night and it was quite good, if a bit shallow on a highly complicated topic. For example, while highlighting the nonsense that is Judith Miller, the program was not able to describe the ways in which Miller had been compromised by the White House and Pentagon as a "journalist" through her various sources and imbeds prior to the entire Plame affair. Miller's story is a long one which would take up an entire episode on it's own, so the superficiality of that coverage was understandable. I now look forward to the other three parts to be broadcast on successive weeks.

Editor and Publisher is publishing some of the off-camera interviews by various participants in the show. One I noticed today was an excerpt of an interview with NY Times editor Bill Keller:
Q. No. But he was saying that there's an unspoken anxiety amongst editors around the country, that they're being squeezed.

KELLER: Well, of course there is. How could there not be? You look at what's happened in Philadelphia, what's happening in Baltimore, what's happening in -- well, now Los Angeles; a lot of places with storied newspapers with histories of really aggressive, impressive, prize-winning journalism, being hollowed out.

I'll tell you a couple of statistics that I've ran across lately, one of which I keep repeating at every opportunity. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were more than 1,000 foreign journalists in Iraq; today, there are fewer than 75. Now, I appreciate a lot that is because it's an incredibly dangerous place to work, but a lot of that is because newspapers are in retreat from covering complicated, foreign stories.

Throughout the coverage of the midterm elections, I was hearing from our reporters that the [campaign] buses were kind of empty, that on some of the major campaigns, even big papers in the states where the races were going on were not assigning the kind of reporting coverage that they would have in the past, that some of the major papers were telling their political reporters, "You have to clear it with us if you want to take an airplane somewhere." That isn't economy; that's suicide.

When I have an opportunity to talk to editors and publishers, I tell them this, that I think the gravest danger facing our business is not new technology or changing demographics or hostile administration in Washington or the blogosphere. The gravest danger facing our business is surrender, despair, panic. There's a lot of it going around. ...
Blogger are great. They provide thoughtful perspectives from a very wide variety of news outlets. But to a very large extent, bloggers are dependent on news coverage by the very same media outlets that Keller is addressing. Bloggers cannot afford to send reporters around the world. Hell, most bloggers do it for the love of politcs and get no pay. As media sources are gutted, news inevitably gets blacked out.

The corporatization, and therefore tabloidization, of our media is slowing strangling our ability to hold our government accountable. It is imperative that Congress begin the process of de-monopolizing corporate ownership.
3 Comments:
Blogger Lynne said...
Thankfully bloggers can access news from around the world and are not dependent solely on the American media.

Anonymous Jake said...
Hi, I am working with the National Association of Broadcasters and I want to make it clear that the media ownership debate is not about the media, it is about local tv and radio broadcasters, which are not consolidated.

There are tens of thousands of local radio stations nationwide that are controlled by over 3,000 owners.

It's time to modernize the outdated ownership rules so tv and radio stations can provide more local news and entertainment to communities for which they serve.

Just wanted to make that clear before we go and call for a "de-monopolizing of corporate ownership."

Blogger GreyHair said...
Hi Jake,

Indeed, there are various owners of local stations and I somewhat agree with you on that point. But where do they get most of their news? AP? Reuters? Other than local stories, which generally are not a threat to our national dialog, they depend on a few outlets.

I'm addressing corporate ownership of national outlets, i.e. the NY Times, AP, ABC, Time Magazine, etc. These major outlets are owned by a very small number of corporations which are peddling tabloidism to boost ratings .... and profits. That's why on a day when 150 people die in a market bombing in Baghdad, Charlie Gibson of ABC News leads with the story of Barbaro dying. Or, how about Anna Nicole Smith?