In my nearly five decades on this planet, my 98 year old Nana has not spent one single day in the hospital and she has never – not once – missed a deadline at either of the two papers she has worked for. She worked at one small weekly for decades until the publisher’s son took over after his dad died and the paper started taking on a right-wing bent and putting sports on the front page every week. Nana is more interested in corrupt county commissioners and budget chicanery. When the Post deteriorated, one of my college friends started a rival paper in the next-biggest town in the county to actually cover the news, and when he approached her for help and advice, she gave it freely and her weekly column has been in every edition of the paper, and she has turned it in on time every week.
We all have the constant harangues that define a person in or period of our lives. For me, the things that define my coming-of-age are my Nana’s macaroni and cheese and her constant irritation with the blurring of the lines between the media and the press.
They are not the same thing.
The press has somehow ended up under the media umbrella, but it is separate, or at least it is supposed to be. Media is entertainment, and that it has absorbed journalism doesn’t just make me angry, it terrifies me.
Journalism is the only profession that is protected by the Constitution. Not only that, but those to whom we owe our legacy of independence and tradition of civil libertarianism – here I am talking about the citizenry that rejected the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was added, not those who crafted the document – a free press was important enough that they put it at the top of their list of priorities right there at the top of the Bill of Rights, or as we call it in these parts, the real ten commandments.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The battle to keep the press independent of the media is steeped in irony. In order for us to continue the social progress of our liberal founders who threw off the yoke of monarchy to break free and forge the grandest democratic experiment in the history of mankind, we have to turn back the clock in one key area: the press. Not in means of technology, but in manner of philosophy. In other words, a truly liberal press would have to embrace a key conservative pillar – the notion of turning back the clock to a previous era.
The press needs to throw off the yoke of media and return to the muckraking roots that defined journalism from Thomas Paine through Watergate. The sort of journalism that used to be practiced by major papers in this country, before the media started taking over the press and destroying newspapers.
I live in Kansas City. I know what I’m talking about. My newspaper was killed by Mickey Mouse.
Disney bought the Kansas City Star in 1996, and promises that nothing would change and Disney wouldn’t sell the paper to yet another entity were believed. After all, Walt himself had delivered the Star as a boy growing up here. But sadly, we were soon reminded that all to often, promises are made to be broken. A year later the paper was sold, in spite of the fact that it earned 25% profits every year – and that’s a damned good profit margin for a newspaper, but not enough to satisfy Eisner, and he dumped it. It was acquired by Knight-Ridder and the slide started. Now, it seems that every time we turn around, the paper is cutting staff. The two firings that incensed me the most were Kit Wagar and Vicki Sizemore Long. Kit reported on the state legislature and Vicki was an award winning business reporter who covered everything from the Kansas wheat harvest to urban gardening in KC.
You know, the local stuff that actually impacts our lives. Kit told us about the republicans in the Missouri House making animal noises on the floor of the house to mock the Democrats during debate over health care, and Vicki had a feature that informed anyone who cared to read the article how, for forty bucks a week we could get a local gardener who reclaimed vacant lots on the east side to bring us a box of fresh, locally grown, organic veggies.
That is the sort of reporting the Star no longer does. They rely on the wire services for the state house coverage, and more and more the people of the state rely on state blogs like Show Me Progress, where I commit acts of journalism on a somewhat regular basis, to find out what is really going on in that snakepit.
The press can turn a profit, but not enough of one to satisfy the bottom line of a media executive, so the press gets shoehorned into the media, and the citizenry pays the price because they do not get the basic, factual information that they need to make informed decisions.
I sat on a panel a couple of weeks ago that discussed the state of the media today. After the panel I realized that I had missed the opportunity to educate the people in attendance that media and press are not synonymous, but I danced around the topic, then a couple of days later called my Nana and told her I blew it.
Maybe I didn’t blow it, exactly, because I did get to make a couple of points that tie in to the philosophy that is so ingrained in me that I take it for granted. One of the things I told the people assembled to hear what we had to say was that I believe that if you don’t know what your government is doing, you don’t live in a democracy. This drew murmurs of assent. The other thing I said that drew agreement, including a “good point” from the panelist from the Star seated next to me was my observation that “even Woodward and Bernstein aren’t Woodward and Bernstein anymore. The only money they are interested in following is the money that ends up in their bank accounts.”
Woodward as much as confessed that he is no longer a member of the press, but a creature of the media with his admission that he tempered his criticism of Bush to preserve his access for a book he was writing.
That made me more frightened than angry when I heard it, and it ought to have the same impact on you. This is the man who brought down one republican president protecting the malfeasance of another because he was writing a book that would make him a lot of money and if he had done his reporters job his future payday would be negatively impacted.
If he wants to call himself a journalist after that sell out, I get to accuse his ass of malpractice.
Crossposted from They gave us a republic