Letter to the Editor: The State of the news Media

Dear Editor, “Sex offender who posed as boy gets 70.5 years. Rare mega-mouth shark caught, then eaten. Newsweek: Is a global economic free-for-all looming?”Such are today’s news headlines — served up “straight,” with a twist of provocation and sensationalism (MSNBC.com, April 7). Like the corporations and markets they report on, America’s mainstream media is flailing to survive in this recession. The consequences of the economic downturn — ranging from severe budget cuts and job losses, to floundering coverage and scope — are not only threatening the industry’s livelihood, but America’s political conscience.Americans rely on the mass media to make informed political and economic decisions. The news is supposed to serve as a citizen’s guidebook.If you think this is a modern concept, think again. The responsibility of the media to inform its citizenry is as age-old as the founder of the idea. America’s second president, John Adams, declared that, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have … an indisputable right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean the characters and conduct of their rulers.” If only Adams was around to facilitate Thursday’s walk-out — tuition might even be free!What happens when major media outlets must choose between profit-seeking strategies and fulfilling their roles as government watchdog and civic educator?  Only bad news.Fear-invoking headlines, consumer-driven ad placements and Hollywoodized anchors have only shattered Americans’ trust in the media. The State of the News Media’s annual 2008 report (SNM) found that “Americans hadn’t altered their fundamental judgment that the news media are politically biased, that stories are often inaccurate and that journalists do not care about the people they report on.”Nicknamed the “bleakest” edition yet, the results of SNM’S journalist survey are more devastating: “62 percent of journalists at national media outlets say that journalism is going in the wrong direction.” Why, America, why?In “Amusing Ourselves to Death” analyst Neil Postman blames “television [for] conditioning us to tolerate visually entertaining material, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs.” “The television age,” Postman argues, not only deters objective reporting and hard news coverage, but also lays the groundwork for a “Huxley-ian” future — in which Americans obsess over celebrities, the first lady’s wardrobe, and the president’s dog. Who do we call “Ford?”Corporate giants GE, Disney and Time-Warner own NBC, ABC and CNN. But, then there’s Congress — instead of advocating for educational, publically funded networks like PBS and NPR, the FCC loosened its restrictions on media ownership and content. As usual, America comes in last: the highly regarded BBC and Le Monde are publically funded, as long as they “sustain citizenship and promote education, etc” (BBC). The real “Ford” — or the bearer of bad news — is the market, which determines its quality. In order to secure our American liberties, we need to know what they are. The media’s responsibility to civic education, like any contract, needs to be renewed – permanently.Neither Huxley-ian nor Orwellian, the mainstream media must strike a balance between public subsidization and a profit-seeking model — until the days of “if it bleeds, it leads” are few and far between. If AIG and GM can pull a 180, why can’t the media?The buck ends here.Sincerely,Ryan WinnickClass of 2009