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The Destruction of Journalism In America

By James Donahue

It has been no secret that the popularity of the Internet preceded by television news via cable networks has taken its toll on the newspaper and news magazine industry. That the largest examples of print journalism . . . the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Gannett Corporation papers and others have fallen under corporate ownership has helped put the coffin nail on the world of real journalism in America.

The newspapers have long found themselves in competition with the television news networks like CNN, FOX News and MSNBC which has helped change the structure of news coverage. The television networks have specialized in talking-head editorial presentations which has apparently had an appeal to the watching public. Few people care to take the time to read long detailed written news reports in the printed media. Gannett’s USA Today has consequently had success in its daily package of tight-cropped stories covering the news highlights from all over the nation.

While not necessarily by design, the changing method of news delivery, the impact of the electronic media and the way in which the media has shifted its focus to meet public demands has played right into the hands of big corporate interests anxious to sway public opinion on popular products to buy, popular political candidates and popular political issues. Consequently, the description of the journalist has shifted from what it used to be to what it is today….creators of propaganda sought by the corporate bosses.

When this writer entered the field of journalism as a reporter for various daily Michigan newspapers, we were carefully trained to be watchdogs of government. The work of collecting the reporting the news involved getting the whole story, not just a slanted view of what appeared to have happened. We asked the standard line of questions: who, what where, why and sometimes how things occurred the way they did. I remember standing at the front door of a county official’s office for hours waiting to get his side of a story involving allegations of wrongdoing leveled at him during a public meeting the previous night.

If there was controversy, we always found that there were two sides to every story, and went out of our way to find them out and report them. I remember standing at the front door of a county official’s office for hours waiting to get his side of a story involving allegations of wrongdoing leveled at him during a public meeting the previous night. My editor literally "held the presses" that day just waiting for that quote.

This is why the late Helen Thomas was such an outstanding member of the Washington Press Corp right up until the day she was forced by a political "set-up" to resign. Helen was the last of the Press Corp members to ask the hard questions during those televised news briefings. She may have been among the last of the real practicing journalists still on the job in Washington.

Sadly, today's journalists are fighting an uphill battle to get their stories in print. Editors and publishers of the printed media, and producers of radio and television news are caught between the demands of the stockholders who have particular agendas, the political powers who "feed" only the information they want the public to know, and a public of couch potatoes who want their news spoon fed to them in snipits.....without having to read more than a paragraph or listen to more than a one-minute verbal report.

Consequently, most people do not know what is really going on. They are vulnerable to corporate and political lies and corruption. When President George W. Bush told the nation Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction, people supported his decision to launch a war against Iraq. Can we believe Syrian President Bashar Assad has launched chemical attacks against his people, are the rebels doing it in an attempt to get the United Nations involved in that bloody conflict, or is it a covert U.S. action designed to justify getting our military involved?

Indeed there are a few reporters in the field asking those questions, but we have to search for their stories. And guess where we find them.....mostly on the Internet news outlets.

It seems that informed citizens who really want to know as much as possible about world events are turning to electronic media outlets that include not only the Internet news from overseas, but are even utilizing social outlets like Facebook and Twitter to spread information. While admittedly, these sources are not always very reliable, they have also proven to be very effective at times of national and world crisis.

This is why California Senator Dianne Feinstein's proposed amendment to the Media Shield Law . . . the law that protects news reporters from government controls . . . is so disturbing. After the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden whistleblower incidents, Feinstein's amendment would limit First Amendment protection only to "real reporters" and block "alternative media" writers.

Feinstein's definition of "real reporters" is salaried agents of a recognized (corporate owned) media company like the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, CNN News and the like. Writers for popular Internet news sites like Raw Story, The Daily Beast, The Daily Kos, this site and many others who often donate their time and resources to get information in print, often without pay, would be excluded.

She calls the latter "shoestring operations" where stories are offered by volunteers and writers who are not paid. For this reason, they should not be afforded protection under the media shield laws.

If she gets this ugly piece of legislation voted into law, the impact on American's freedom of information will be more damaging that most people realize.