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Reporting In For Reporting

April 5, 2010

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so explicit, but in my capacity as a writer of this blog, I consider myself a journalist.  A self-styled/self-certified/self-anointed/just-plain-selfish journalist, but a journalist nonetheless.  The claim seems hyperbolic at first glance–I was hesitant looking at the claim in type myself–but really, a journalist is quintessentially someone who collects, condenses, and communicates information believed to be worthy of communication by the journalist.  Under this definition, this blog is saved from disqualification by the latter element because the journalist, rather than the audience, determines what to say.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t do it for a living; I do it for living.

That last element also seems to defy the sheer factual realities of the modern media landscape, doesn’t it?  Now more than ever, concentrated corporate ownership of the media has hamstrung journalists instead of empowering them.  Synergy-fraught agendas attendant to conglomerate ownership dictate the scope and bounds of journalistic activity and make managers consider profitability before truth, worth, or other competing values.  Whether you’re a fan of Citizens United or not, the fact remains that corporations and profit motives–and not humans–make huge quantities of decisions about the contours of speech in major media outlets.

The only reason I can even qualify in the same category as such industrially amplified and megaphonic voices, let alone compete with them, is that the Internet has reduced the costs of distance-minimizing and infinitely reproducible speech to approximately nil.  Bloggers such as myself can afford to have roughly the same returns through the minute pleasure of influencing other people who care and aggregating/extrapolating beyond our own reach.

FCC Commissioner Newton Minnow famously framed the debate surrounding journalistic responsibility very simply:

Some say the public interest is merely what interests the public.  I disagree.

And that was in 1961.  In light of the 24-hour news cycle and corporate ownership subjecting journalistic considerations to profit motives, the circularity of the phrasing is particularly salient.  Journalists must make their subject what interests the public or vice versa.  Regardless of whether or not it’s worthwhile, that circularity in the public interest turns our discourse into even more of a high school soap opera because our finest attention-whoring politicians are savvy enough know that artificial conflict over nothing is more newsworthy than consensus-driven substance.

Public officials deserve, in fact demand, our scrutiny. But there’s a problem when almost every story, large and small and in between, is packaged the same way, and that’s as a personality-driven scandal, an abuse of the public trust. Motives are always to be questioned – whether there’s evidence of a devious conspiracy or not.

What did they know and when did they know it? Will they come clean? Will they apologize? Will they step down? Is there a crime, and whether or not there’s a crime, is there a cover up?

That’s the process: Get lathered up, rinse, repeat.

Journalists are the de facto gatekeepers of gossip because they themselves respect and engage in the information itself.  If a journalist actually cares about something, it is their responsibility to both their subjects and their audiences to bridge the chasms that lie between.  In that sense, good journalism (writing skills aside) requires living philosophically or authentically.  That makes it either the easiest thing in the world or the hardest.

By that token, the fracturing of influence caused by the Internet requires a more sincere individual commitment to a journalistic sense of integrity and duty.

Why can’t American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team?

It’s certainly a more feasible goal than inducing such behavior in actors that can only be subjected to profit motives by the very nature of corporate law and fiduciary duties to shareholders.  It is in that spirit–and that unnecessarily long preamble–that I feel it is my obligation to link you to a recent video posted by WikiLeaks (the investigative arm of anarchic news production for the anarchy skeptics out there).  I was dismayed to see the slaughter of apparently innocent Iraqis, journalists included among them, by American troops treating the scenario like an enthralling video game.  The leaked video displays the mentality on display in Jarhead, the testosterone-and-machismo-fueled state of constant combat-frenzy our soldiers are systematically conditioned to adopt and act on.  Regardless, it wasn’t the warfare or even the ethics that motivates me to draw attention to this point: it is the nature of the way attention is drawn.  It took surprisingly long (and I suspect will continue to take a while) for other media outlets, and those being the ones with exceptional integrity or immunity to corporate influence, to pick up on this exposé.  So I do my small part in the hopes that others will do the same, in the grand tradition of idealistic categorical imperatives: I post.

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