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Protecting Ourselves

Who's watching out when there's no media?

by and

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We suffer from the diminishment of mainstream journalism, both the loss of newspapers and the willingness of publishers and reporters to do more than just report the obvious. The causes really don't matter; there is nothing to be done. It is too late.

As journalism's business model collapses, Robert McChesney and John Nichols' book The Death and Life of American Journalism substantiates print's move to intensive care:

• Last year, 140 newspapers closed.

• In the last two years, more than 30,000 workers were laid off. There are real journalists losing their jobs, especially in midsize and small cities. For example, the Statesman's corporate owner, McClatchy, has laid off 30 percent of its workers.

• As beat reporters are lost, government at every level is no longer routinely covered.

• The more than 200 foreign correspondents who worked overseas in 2000 now number 100. The Washington Post announced in December the closure of bureaus in Berlin, Rio and Cape Town.

Newspaper circulation losses accelerated in 2009, falling 10.6 percent from 2008 and now have declined 25.6 percent since 2000. That pales in comparison to revenue losses. In the past two years, ad revenues fell 23 percent, from $49 billion to $38 billion.

In 1960, the ratio of public relations people to journalists was 1-to-1. In 1980, the ratio had increased to 1.2-to-1. Now, it is 4-to-1 and at the current rate could be 8-to-1 by 2014.

In a 2009 report, the Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that corporate, special interest and government PR machines use press conferences, controlled interviews or press releases to produce 86 percent of stories in Baltimore and, by extension, the country. What is featured as news is really the powerful dictating what's reported with little fact checking.

With the diminished role of newspapers as democracy's watchdog, who will protect the commonweal? Surely, we can count on the The New York Times, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Los Angeles Times for a while.

Certainly the jury is in a locked room deliberating whether television or cable news will ever take up the cudgel. Doubtful. The FCC is currently trying to obtain bandwidth that might be used in the public interest.

There is NPR, but it is watched over with such a heavy hand that its attempts to be balanced make out-right propaganda sound reasonable.

The answer is closer to home. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Who will protect the commonweal? "We" is the answer.

We must wake up from the opiate of glee and entertainment that so fills our lives and focus on the real world and what is happening to it.

We must--absolutely must--continue to educate ourselves and absolutely insist that our youth receive first-class educations that teach them to think, to read, to analyze and to add two and two and come up with the correct answer.

We must stop believing every talking head from Limbaugh to Olbermann to Beck to Brian Williams and use our own heads to cut through what is an outright lie, what is a government push, and what might be the simple truth.

One of the problems is that the First Amendment allows speech that is outright lies that serve to damage someone or something--or get someone elected. When does such speech meet the test of shouting fire in a crowded theater?

In addition to supporting efforts like ProPublica and the Boise Weekly, proposed fixes include public funding for independent news organizations, tax credits for purchasing newspapers, and other measures not politically probable.

We repeat, the answer is "we."

: Mike Reineck has been an engaged Boise resident for 24 years. Mike Silva is a former longtime journalist, has been a community activist and observer of Boise and Ada County and has written about it for years.


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