The State of Journalism is directly related to the State of the Nation

Is the United States the leader of the Free World?

Depending upon whom you ask the answer varies. Certainly, we in the States suck at providing affordable Health Care, Maternity and Paternity leave, and let us not forget to look at equality, where the record is even more abysmal, although improving somewhat. It is true that for many Americans the question of equal status has improved marginally, notably among members of LGBT community, whose members can finally legally marry whom they choose. However, when you consider that women are still not guaranteed equal pay for equal work, there remains an inability of our Congress to pass legislation on immigration, Black men and women must take inordinate care when involved in even a minor traffic stop, and then there is the squalor that Native Americans are forced to endure. You will see that in many sections of our society the struggle for equality is far from over.

Returning to my original question, how does the United States compare with other Industrialized Nations on that quintessential point we claim as our own, “Leadership of the Free World”? When asked with so broad a brush the questions becomes daunting; however, if we focus on just one particular segment of our American assertion of greatness, the Fourth Estate, the question ‘how do we measure up’  becomes easier to determine. What is the status of the US Free Press, that one source of information that we Americans have always prided ourselves on as being superior to all other Nations; however, without any real recent validation or merit to prove that assumption? The United States has always touted and extolled itself for having a powerful Free Press, the Fourth Estate, MSM (Mainstream Media), or simply “journalism.” I decided one morning to research that assumption, and report what I had gleaned. The method I used was to search “Google”, if you will, using text searches looking for articles on the above subject matter and then read them. What I discovered should be a wakeup call to that bedrock of our free society, our misinformed populace; however, I fear we have left it too long and the damage is irrevocable.

Queries used:

  1. “Statistics of how the US News Media compares with other industrialized Nations“
  2. “How does US News Media compare with other industrialized Nations?”
  3. “What is the condition of the fourth estate in the US?”

There were many hits but scant articles available that are currently written about the topic I am interested in documenting, I wondered why, perhaps MSM does not like reporting on itself.

The first article I found was from Michael Brenner, a notable learned gentleman with a list of credits longer that this post. His opinion was a breath of fresh air, even though it verifies my worst impressions and fears for the current state of journalistic content in the US. As evidenced by the following quote from an article written by Brenner and published the Huffington Post.

“The now systematic disparagement of China by the MSM — led by the NYT — is pernicious. It encourages complacency; it feeds American hubris; it deepens our parochialism.

Americans are finding it hard enough to swallow the anathematic truth that the United States may not have been mandated with a Providential mission to lead the world. Masking the dismaying evidence otherwise provides no useful service. Quite the opposite.”

…                                                             

“As noted in the examples above, the lack of follow-up is a striking flaw in the coverage of stories domestic and international. Leaving important matters in limbo is to burden the readership with the task of either searching obscure Internet websites or losing track of what is going on. Journalism that resembles a-dab- here,-a-dab-there is close to worthless.” 1

Lest I appear too negatively biased against our Corporate Media, I continued reading and documenting. I found one case where a controversy was seemingly resolved with the aid and influence of the media. “The US-South Korea Beef Imports Controversy.” 2

I turned to the prestigious Pew Research Center for further insight. The data collected draws the conclusion that most news executives are worried about the future of Journalism.

“the answers suggested both groups of news executives were more concerned with failures on the business side rather than the journalistic side. In short, news executives believe that missed opportunities to develop revenue have hurt more than any problems in attracting audiences or producing the news differently.”

When asked in the manner most used by PEW in soliciting information, the survey returned disparate results from the groups asked to participate, they were clearly divided as the results became known.

 “News executives in this survey are clearly divided. When asked what is more to blame for journalism’s problems—are they the inevitable result of technology or more a matter of missed opportunity—news executives are broken into three almost equal camps. A third see the problems as mostly a failure to adapt, about a third as inevitable and just over a third sensing a pretty even mix of the two.” 3

Unfortunately, what is lacking in the PEW research is any attempt to measure data on the root cause of why corporate media outlets have failed their mandate. A focus on profit has become paramount in the past several decades. Economics as the driving force and not the integrity of their journalism is what could well lead to the downfall of the Fourth Estate. The mad rush to consolidate organizations in an effort to cuts cost and increase profit has had a deleterious effect on the quality of their product, “informing the public.”

It is the French or perhaps more accurately the EU in France that has, in many regards surpassed, what passes for Journalism in the US.

“France enjoys a free press and has more than 100 daily newspapers. Most of them are in private hands and are not linked to political parties.

Public broadcaster Radio France targets the domestic audience, French overseas territories, and foreign audiences. Radio France Internationale is one of the world’s leading international stations. Its Arabic-language Monte Carlo International service broadcasts across the Middle East.

Global news channel France 24 TV broadcasts in French, English, and Arabic. It has said it aims to present “a different point of view from the Anglo-Saxon world”. 4

I believe that we Americans need to ask ourselves, and soon, if we are willing to accept what the Corporate media is offering or if we are going to demand a higher standard.

Who owns the media in the US?

In 2011 a blogger named Jason who originated Frugaldad.com wrote and created a piece about the consolidation of US Media outlets from eighty-six in nineteen eighty-three to just six in two thousand eleven and there have been further consolidations since then.  It is frightening to know that the US Electorate receives most of their information from a handful of corporate entities controlled by a few hundred men and women. Is it any wonder that with this narrow view of the world, our political stage, and our society that the public is confused and divided?

I continued searching along in this vein and found another link to a Pew Research Center article that is even more frighteningly informative. It is an interactive database of listings for “Who Owns the News Media” . 5 It is an interactive database of companies that own news properties in the United States.

The information distilled from the Pew data is beyond terrifying and should be of great concern to those remaining critical thinkers in the US.

“Increasingly, the data suggest that the impact these technology companies are having on the business of journalism goes far beyond the financial side, to the very core elements of the news industry itself. In the predigital era, journalism organizations largely controlled the news products and services from beginning to end, including original reporting; writing and production; packaging and delivery; audience experience; and editorial selection. Over time, technology companies like Facebook and Apple have become an integral, if not dominant player in most of these arenas, supplanting the choices and aims of news outlets with their own choices and goals.” 6

How the news or journalistic articles are chosen and offered to the public has undergone a reformation since the financial crisis of 2008. With media outlets cutting back on editorial staff and relying upon Social Media to an increasingly alarming rate to deliver content, what stories get play depends not upon their intellectual, political, or informative merit but instead on trending interests. Those interest can be vapid at best, violently prurient at worst. If left to our basest instincts to determine editorial content we can expect a serious decline in the scholarly levels of what we are offered to read in print, online, and on cable television. What does this portend for our Democracy, our Society, and our children?

There are some innovative attempts to deliver the News, experimenting with new ways to tell stories. The Pew article discusses these, but not in great detail. This whole experience and exploration of this subject has left me deeply concerned about the future of our fragile society. If the sources from where we obtain our decision-making criteria are controlled by a scant few or left to algorithms, developed by machines and based on financial concerns then how can we possibly trust that information? We have a choice to either seek alternative news outlets that suit our personal bias, or to contribute financially to those independent news sources that still adhere to some semblance of journalistic integrity. However, that involves assuming the burden of both becoming informed enough to be discerning on the current issues of the day and then reading what is being offered so as to know the difference; you can see the ‘Catch 22’ in this easily enough, I assume.

 

References:

  1. “The Fourth Estate ‘Takes the Fifth’”, 09/08/2015 Updated Sep 08, 2015, Brenner M. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-brenner/the-fourth-estate-takes-the-fifth_b_8104666.html>
  2. “THE FOURTH ESTATE’S INFLUENCE ON DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACIES: MEDIA FRAMING OF THE 2008 US-SOUTH KOREA BEEF IMPORTS CONTROVERSY”, GNOVIS JOURNAL 2015, 24 August 2010, Cho, H. <http://www.gnovisjournal.org/2010/08/24/fourth-estates-influence-deliberative-democracies-media-framing-2008-us-south-korea-beef-imp/>
  3. “The State of Journalism”, Pew Research Center, 8 April 2010, <http://www.journalism.org/2010/04/08/child/>
  4. “France country profile”, BBC News, 12 February 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17298730>
  5. “MEDIA CONSOLIDATION: THE ILLUSION OF CHOICE”, Jason, 22 November 2011, <http://frugaldad.com/2011/11/22/media-consolidation-infographic/>
  6. “State of the News Media 2016”, Pew Research Center 15 JUNE 2016, A. Mitchell and J. Holcomb, <http://www.journalism.org/2016/06/15/state-of-the-news-media-2016/>

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