May 20, 2004
The Good Ol' Days
I posted this to the Young Journalists listserv, and thought I’d ask you savvy, snarky young consumers of media as well:
Scroll through any of the numerous rants about the state of journalism you can easily find online, and it’ll likely be peppered with barbs about journalism “nowadays,” how the news media is “no longer” worthy of (fill in the unworthy thing). Search Google for the phrase “our media has become,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Which is, to get to the point, that critics of the media reflexively conjure this golden age of journalism. If it exists, I’d love to know more about it. The uber-example of fantastic journalism that I always hear about is Watergate — the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Woodie and Bernie, etc. But were those isolated examples indicative of an entirely different age or attitude in journalism? Were they surrounded by similar shining cases of media-as-watchdog? And I can’t imagine that when the WaPo ran the Watergate series, millions of fans of Nixon weren’t decrying how evil, monomaniacal, liberal, sensationalistic, what-have-you, the media had become.
Is “nowadays” just a figure of speech?
I don’t think it can be argued that recent years have seen huge corporate consolidation among our traditional media outlets, and that journalism has in many ways suffered as a result, but it strikes me that the burgeoning power of non-traditional, independent media is beginning to act as a tremendous counterweight to that consolidation. (I don’t JUST mean blogs, either.) We’ve gotten to the point where our individual readers, who claim fealty to no company, have appointed themselves watchdogs of individual journalists, and these independent meta-journalists actually accrue sizeable audiences of their own, in some cases bigger than the audiences of many mid-sized dailies.
In other words, newspapers and local tv stations are experiencing increasing corporate consolidation, yes, but they’re also making up a smaller and smaller part of our media landscape, especially among our generation.
To push the question even further, can anyone point to ANY PRESS, in any country, at any point in history that truly fulfilled the ideal of the media as servant of the people, ethical watchdog, beacon of goodness, etc.? What is the ideal we’re striving for?
In Norway, I’m told (might be Sweden, might be the Netherlands), news companies demand far smaller profit margins from their products than our companies do here in America, and their papers are much more widely read. Correlation, not causation, of course, but is it that the media in Norway produces journalism that’s singularly excellent in all the world?
There are pockets of stunning media brilliance and bravado all over the world, in much more dangerous and corrupt quarters than America, where daring individuals publish their works on secret presses and distribute them under fear of death. But one can’t deny that there are numerous examples of powerful, courageous journalism in the pockets of America, too.