On Monday's post about AARP and ALEC, a reader complimented me on my investigative reporting. It's good to know that what I write here is appreciated but in this case and almost all others, I cannot take credit for the information I pass on.
Just your ordinary, everyday, original reporting takes more time that I have to keep up this blog; investigations take days, weeks and years (see Watergate) so I don't do much of that. I rely on the hard work of others.
What I do most of the time is gather existing information about a topic, evaluate it for quality, reliability and interest, edit as makes sense and pass it on in story form and always citing sources.
This is pertinent today because the main video essay on John Oliver's HBO program, Last Week Tonight last Sunday was about what America is losing as its local newspapers are cutting back and shutting down.
I understand from the many polls that journalism is one of the least liked and least respected institutions in the United States and I disagree with that public condemnation.
Yes, I worked in various forms of journalism for most of my career and some would say that makes me prejudiced. I disagree with that too. I know the mistakes that are made (as are made in every kind of business and industry) from the inside; I also know that the largest percentage of news gets it right most of the time; and I know that our democracy, under attack for years from many sides, cannot survive without journalists and without local newspapers.
Our best-known founding father, Thomas Jefferson, apparently never stopped talking about the necessity of a free press to the survival of democracy. There are dozens of quotations about it from him. Here's one:
”Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
We are losing too much of our free press, particularly at the local level, and Oliver's essay last week is so true as to make one weep at the end. But not David Chavern, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.
He's a churlish sort of fellow who can't see the gift Oliver presented to the newspapers his organization represents. Instead, he saw insults, accusing Oliver of
”...making fun of experiments and pining away for days when classified ads and near-monopolistic positions in local ad markets funded journalism is pointless and ultimately harmful...he spends most of the piece making fun of publishers who are just trying to figure it out.”
Not a word of that is true but let me quote Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, rebutting Mr. Chavern – she does it so well:
”What Oliver did was precisely nail everything that’s been happening in the industry that Chavern represents: The shrinking staffs, the abandonment of important beats, the love of click bait over substance, the deadly loss of ad revenue, the truly bad ideas that have come to the surface out of desperation, the persistent failures to serve the reading public.
“Oliver — who is, after all, in the comedy business — did indeed make fun of Tronc, the renamed Tribune Co., whose incomprehensible corporate jargon thoroughly deserves the drubbing it’s been getting in recent months.
“And he took some well-deserved shots at media’s addiction to content that generates digital traffic, particularly ever-weirder stories about cats.
“And Oliver’s final sequence was a brilliant send-up of the movie Spotlight as it would be in the new newspaper environment.
“In short, Oliver’s piece...was pretty much a love letter to newspapers.”
Now, grab your favorite beverage, sit back, put up your feet and revel in a brilliantly produced appeal to save America's free press.
Newspaper reporters throughout the United States are paddling as fast as they can under increasingly restrictive circumstances. We should be praising them for the work they can manage to accomplish, not vilifying them.
I will leave you with another quotation from Thomas Jefferson with which I heartily agree:
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”