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The decline of responsible journalism

I grew up relying on newspapers as my primary source of information about the world around me.  When I was a kid, Chicago had four or five major daily newspapers as well as scores of local publications. Journalists had a venerated position in our society because they provided the public with information about local, national and international events. They took this responsibility seriously, they knew they were one of the most effective checks and balances on unfettered power, and they had a deep seated sense of duty to the society as a whole.


As time went on, television assumed a larger share of this task. I watched Murrow, Sevareid, Cronkite, Brinkley and more, and they could be counted on to provide an objective accounting of the often tumultuous times of my youth. They acquired credibility with their viewers by maintaining uncompromising standards of journalistic integrity, built up over years of hard work. 

Old-school journalists were imbued with the responsibility of getting the facts right by digging deep even if it meant stepping on the toes of powerful people. They realized they had to guard against the ability of powerful people to manipulate them and exploit their personal credibility for what amounted to an unpaid ad.

Times are different now, and a lot has changed in our culture. Print and electronic journalism from traditional sources no longer has the monopoly they once had, 24-hour cable news outlets and the internet have changed how we obtain our news. Some might suggest it’s better; others, say it’s worse, but the fact remains. News reporting is completely different. Media consolidation has concentrated the vast majority of newspapers and television stations under the control of fewer huge media conglomerates.

Today, some journalists resort to short cuts in ways that would make their predecessors cringe. In their defense, many try to maintain high standards of integrity, but the corporate bottom line doesn’t allow the luxury their predecessors had: to have almost unlimited time to dig deep enough to find the real truth. It’s expensive and time consuming to adhere to the standards the old-school journalists maintained, and the decline of ad revenues makes this type of journalism financially impractical in a profit driven business

What really brought this point home was the shabby job local journalists did in reporting the challenges facing Chicago in tradeshow industry over the past few years. Print and electronic media reports have basically submitted verbatim accounts straight from the press releases of the sponsors of the legislative upheaval.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they were lazy, but some suggest they were biased, the willing pawns of the most powerful people in the industry. The very people most responsible for the mess Chicago is in. News reporting was one-sided and appalling. It neglected or ignored crucial issues and resulted in a warped public opinion.

This was made obvious when a legislative initiative was over turned  in a landmark decision by the legal justice system. The Federal Judge noted in his decision, there was no compelling need for this legislation because there more significant cost savings to exhibitors which were not being considered, but this legislation targeted only minor segment of cost containment.

If you want to control a society, first you must control public opinion. To do this you must manipulate the means by which information which shapes the point of view of the public is disseminated. Once you have the public believing a lie, truth becomes irrelevant.

This whole scenario has taught me one thing, that news has unfortunately evolved into subliminal advertising for the most powerful segments of our society. I will never look at the news business with the same naive respect I once had. I question everything. When a news item seems like a simple, clear cut case of right vs. wrong,  I become most suspicious. I ask myself who will benefit from me acquiring a  strong belief or attitude about  a particular issue. I follow the money, and inevitably I’ll find a puppet master behind the scenes pulling the strings.

Posted in View from the Floor
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