Sunday, December 16, 2007

Goodbye, Woodward and Bernstein

Good thing Watergate didn't happen in London, Ontario. Because it probably would never have been uncovered.

A London Free Press reporter recently stated in an online blog that, in essence, her job is to report the news, not to educate the public. What exactly is this reporter's job? Just to unthinkingly parrot what she's told, not to conduct research, to not provide context for a story, not to expand the public's thinking? Does that mean that any story on an anticipated snowstorm should not include driving tips? All opinion columns should be removed from the media? There will be no more talk shows, no opinion of any kind expressed by a journalist?

Is that what this reporter sees as her role in the fourth estate, merely repeating stories verbatim like a town crier?

Jeffrey Kuehner of the New York Sun wrote a wonderful opinion piece titled The Fifth Estate, read it here. Mr. Kuehner's piece is based on the role of journalists vis-a-vis American politics; however, his fundamental ideas hold true throughout the practice of journalism. To quote Mr. Kuehner:

"The press has long held a cherished role in our democracy: ideally, journalists are the ultimate truth tellers who hold politicians accountable. The press, in conjunction with the separate branches of the government and the judiciary, acts as yet another vital check and balance on political power. Journalists have an invaluable calling: to stand above the political fray in order to protect the interests of the people; to serve as the bold and courageous whistleblowers of corruption and deceit."

Does that sound like a journalist's job should be, "Just the facts, ma'am"?

Mr. Kuehner also mentions that disaffected citizens who no longer trust mainstream media are turning to other sources. To quote, "With lightning speed, the incessant bloggers on the Internet call attention to distortions in the mainstream press. Furthermore, there is a body of original information available on the Internet that does not appear elsewhere. In short, the New Media is becoming the "Fifth Estate."

Well, hooray for the Sixth Estate (explanation below) and thank heavens it exists. There definitely is a growing distrust of mainstream media. I believe that mainstream media has been corrupted by global convergence; the appetite for profit is satisfied at the expense of investigative journalism and educating the public. MSM outlets are now dedicated to feeding the monster, spewing infotainment 365/24/7 at the expense of information and education.

It ties into another hobby horse of mine, the dumbing down of education.

In a period of time where the populace has access to more information than any previous generation, where global events are reported in real time complete with visuals, where borders have no meaning for the delivery of information, some university graduates are only semi-literate; critical and lateral thought are sadly absent in many people; independent thought is a rarity rather than the norm.

Are we acting only as cameras, recording the picture rather than processing the information and extrapolating truths from the data?

Thought process to be continued after breakfast. Talk amongst yourselves, I'm verklempt.

Addendum 1: Caveat has written a wonderful dissection of a Freep editor's attempt to deflect some of the heat from the above-mentioned reporter. Check it out.

Addendum 2: Mr. Kuehner wrote of The Fifth Estate. I'm changing that to the Sixth Estate because according to Wikipedia, Fifth Estate is any class or group in society other than the the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate), the middle class (Third Estate), and the press (Fourth Estate)[1]. It has been used to describe trade unions, the poor, organized crime, German propaganda and spies during World War II (by the French). It can also be used to describe media that sees itself in opposition to mainstream (Fourth Estate) media. While the bloggers of the Sixth Estate fit into the last description, they certainly don't fit into the others. I think bloggers deserve an estate of their own.


Anonymous said...

Good post, great title.

Woodward has been doing speaking engagements for the past few years, lamenting the absence of what we used to call journlists, and especially investigative journalists.

It's all about pulling stuff off the wire these day. Actually, a computer could do it quite well and probably in a 'neutral, unbiased manner' as well.

Keep up the good work!

We could call ourselves The Real Estate - but I think that's taken :>)


No BSL said...

Great post.
You and Caveat are the new Woody and Bernie.
Keep the heat on.