By James Donahue
Squeezed by tight economic times and competition
from electronic media, the print media in the United States has been tightening its belt and laying off staff. Now as major
newspapers begin to close their doors there has been a growing concern that real American journalism is in danger and once
they are gone, there will be nobody left to keep a critical eye on government.
Sure, the television talking heads appear
to be doing the job. But television, by its very nature, cannot devote the time required to report a story as thoroughly as
the print media has done. But if you look closely, politically oriented shows like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, CNN’s
Lou Dobbs and various other anchors depend on guest commentators, many of them known columnists and writers for
major newspapers and magazines, to help explain news events of the day.
News outlets all across the web tap regularly
into well-written and well-documented stories and commentary pulled largely from the print media or from news services like
The Associated Press, Reuters, Breitbard and AFP. The stories are all newspaper feeds, created years ago by participating
news outlets to assure daily newspapers of enough copy to fill the volumes of print space produced daily.
But as singer/songwriter Bob Dylan once put
it: "The Times They Are A’Changing." In their quest to compete with television and the computer age, newspapers stopped
putting money in investigative reporting that dug behind the scenes for corruption in high places. The Washington News Corps
slipped from a team of America’s best journalists to a pack of obedient “yes” men and women, willing to
accept prepared statements doled out to them.
The changes came slowly, but we saw the results
of bad journalism during the years George W. Bush and his gang of thugs took over Washington. Those of us who have been involved
in researching and reporting news have been concerned about these changes. Good journalists have been called “the fourth
estate” because they are considered necessary to assure that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government
perform smoothly and without blemish.
The question hasn’t been if newspapers
will fold, but when. And once they are gone, will American journalism be changed forever? What will replace the men and women
assigned to keep that watchful eye on the goings-on among our elected officials during the wheeling and dealing that occurs
in the back room, when the courts and our legislators are not in session? That is often where the real stories are uncovered.
This week Arianna Huffington, co-founder
and editor of the Internet’s Huffington Post, has obviously been as concerned about this looming journalistic gap as
have the rest of us. And she has come up with a possible solution.
Huffington says her site is collaborating
with The Atlantic Philanthropies and other doners to bankroll a team of 10 staff journalists who will work as an investigative
team and coordinate stories with freelancers. The venture is starting with an initial budget of $1.75 million.
The team’s first assignment will be
to dig into the nation’s economic crisis, obviously looking into the origins, the culprits operating behind the scene,
and whether it is all a staged scam designed to get certain people in high places even richer than they already are.
What is going to be great about the project
is that any work these journalists produce will be available for all web publications to use at the same time it is posted
on The Huffington Post, she said.
This is obviously a major undertaking for
Huffington. Her site, which has become among the most popular of the news and opinion sites on line, operates with a staff
of only seven reporters.
It is heartening to know that more excellent
news and opinion sites are appearing that will surely be filling the gap as newsprint slides into oblivion. The Christian
Science Monitor, which has had a reputation for excellence in journalism, closed its doors as a newspaper and began producing
an daily on-line edition at no cost to readers. Its daily offering is well worth the read.
Other interesting sites to watch are The
Daily Kos and The Daily Beast.
It has occurred to us that journalism is
still alive and well in America. It is merely evolving away from the print media to the new electronic outlets.
Whatever happens, we need to make sure that
the journalists operating in Washington grow a spine and that they never again allow a president and his staff to run amuck,
And today we salute Arianna Huffington for having the foresight to launch
a service that we believe will fill a journalistic void that sorely needs to be filled.