Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The cause of poor journalism

A humour site posted a good joke about bad journalism:

Gene for poor science journalism discovered

If only it were true.  The actual causes of bad journalism are much harder to combat.

The first cause is the corporate-owned media.

The news used to be the Fourth Estate.  It was seen as a public duty, something above and outside commercial concerns.  Instead, as media ownership fell into fewer and fewer hands, corporate executives began dictating editorial policy.  Telling the truth was not allowed if it conflicted with the corporate bottom line.

From Sharon Beder, University of Wollongong, Australia:

General Electric's Influence on NBC
GE is by no means a hands off owner of NBC. Lee and Solomon in their book Unreliable Sources have detailed how GE insisted on the removal of references to itself in an NBC programme on substandard products. They also point out that NBC journalists have not been particularly keen to expose GE's environmental record and that TV commercials by a group called INFACT, urging a boycott of GE products, were banned by NBC as well as other television stations. NBC did however briefly report GE's indictment for cheating the Department of Defense which was reported more extensively in other media outlets. (Lee and Solomon 1990, pp. 77-81)
Former NBC News Chief, Lawrence Grossman, claims that the head of GE, Jack Welch made it clear to him that he worked for GE and told him not to use terms such as 'Black Monday' to describe the stock market crash in 1987 because it depressed share prices such as GE's (Cited in Naureckas 1995).
FOX News killed a story showing Monsanto's tainting of the food supply, at the behest of Monsanto.

The second cause is "journalism schools".

Journalism was once a field for those who had a passion for writing and finding answers.  Reporters and broadcasters of the past came from a variety of fields - some were ex-soldiers, some were university graduates, some were high school dropouts, some were lawyers.  All had a curiousity and a desire to tell the truth.  Journalism was a calling, a public service.

Today, however, journalism is seen and promoted as a "career", a form of celebrity.  It's seen as a competition to reach the highest and most well paid positions in the media, a competition to become the most famous.  To reach those goals a "reporter" cannot make enemies.  And when you're not stepping on toes, you're not asking tough questions.

"Journalism schools" do not teach curiousity, they do not encourage investigative journalism.  What they do encourage and "teach" is mining and editing sound bites.  They teach people how to present themselves on screen, how to speak, how to stand.  In short, they're beauty pageant academies.

The results of "journalism schools" are atrocious.  Today, the media is full of stenographers who throw softball questions, who never dig for the whole story until after it breaks.  They are afraid to say anything that will jeopardize their "careers", even if it means missing a story of importance.

Within a day after Tiger Woods was exposed as a philanderer and user of prostitution, many "golf writers" had in-depth exposés of his antics.  How did those "writers" get so much information so quickly, so much dirt about so many indiscretions?

There's only one way they could have gotten it that fast: they already had it.  They already knew about Woods's proclivities, and they chose to keep their mouths shut.  The "golf writers" knew he was cheating on his wife, but they buried the story because they were afraid of being blackballed by the PGA and the golfers.

The "writers" in the technology media are among the worst.  They want access to corporate CEOs and will toady up to them, singing their praises while burying bad reviews of company products.  In 2007, Harry McCracken, the editor of PC World, quit in disgust because Apple's CEO Colin Crawford told McCracken to kill a story about Apple and Steve Jobs ("Ten Things We Hate About Apple").  There are many other true and rumoured stories about computer magazines rewriting or removing bad reviews, criticism and other factual stories.

Political "reporters" have done the most damage of all.  They kept their mouths shut and played willing lapdogs to George Bush before, during and after the illegal invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, any many continue now with Barack Obama.  They willingly chose to be "embedded" and let their reports be censored by the US government.  If they hadn't, they would have lost "access" to generals, to White House press conferences.  They were careerists and failures at their jobs.

What's most galling about political reporters is their attempt to rewrite the history of the illegal wars.  They pretend that "We couldn't know there were no WMDs!" even though Hans Blix and many independent media said that there weren't any.  They pretend that no one said the occupations would lead to a failed states and endless war.

It's not enough for the right wing, corporate-owned political media to deny that they werewrong.  They're also trying to pretend that no one was right, that no one knew the invasions would be a mistake.

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