Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photo Ops, Sick Newspapers and a Straying Readership: Is There Any Hope?

Documentaries on the last days of the Czarist government in Russia sometimes juxtapose the idyllic affluence of the royal family with the mass poverty to which they were so callously indifferent.

The news media is referred to as the "fourth estate" seems to be close on the heels of clueless royalty into what Lenin called the "dustbin of history". We have just finished an election in which the majority of the print and broadcast media functioned as a cheerleading squad for the Obama campaign. Stories circulated about reporters and newspapers that were kicked off the Obama campaign plane for (horrors) doing unflattering stories about the Great One. Many reporters decided to go easy rather than risk being shut out of the loop.

In many parts of the world, journalists are intrepid souls who risk life, limb and freedom to serve as the voice of conscience. American journalists have in large numbers followed in the footsteps of the "Pravda" and "Neues Deutschland " mode of serving as chherleaders for the party.

The realisation of millions of readers and viewers that they are being subjected to party infomercials has had economic repercussions. Newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times and Newsweek are in danger of going under. There is talk of a news media bailout package that would formalise what is now only a common law arrangement by making the government an actual supporter of the foundering news outlets.

I have scanned the horizon for a sign of hope. Perhaps someone will feel a twinge of shame when they compare their journalistic prostitution with the bravery of those reporters such as the Algerian journalists who were killed for their courage.

When I was looking at an article in today's New York Post, I lost any hope I might have had of a return to journalistic excellence in the mainstream media. The indignation of AP, Agence Franc Presse and Reuters has finally erupted into belated indignation at their curtailed independence.
What finally moved them to speak out? The New York Post reports as follows.

Three news agencies refused to distribute White House-provided photos of President Obama in the Oval Office yesterday, arguing that access should have been provided to news photographers.

"The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse said the White House was breaking with longstanding tradition in not allowing news photographers to capture the president at work on his first day.

"We are not distributing what are, in effect, visual press releases," said Michael Oreskes, managing editor for US news at the AP.

The agencies have used administration-provided images in the past for areas in the White House where media access is generally not permitted, such as the Situation Room or the private residence."


As an assertion of journalistic independence, this little snit about photo ops is laughable. For the entire duration of the Presidential campaign, clues to stories that would have proven detrimental to the Obama campaign were buried. His political record in Chicago, the recollections of his enemies and the questionable nature of his friends were ignored in the mainstream media.

An electorate that was anxious to examine Obama's record was slurred as racist when the poll numbers failed to suggest a fitting landslide. Blogs and talk radio became the alternative media , the counterbalance to the fawning coverage on the major networks.

It is clear that the mainstream media is out to shield the Obama administration from criticism. The laughable complaint about lost photo ops has everything to do with wounded pride and nothing to do with journalistic integrity.

If the press wanted to regain some credibility, there are a couple of things they could do.

1) Band together. Protest loudly if a reporter is bumped from Air Force One for being too critical of Obama
2) If banding together does not work, take a question from a banned reporter and ask his or her question when you are called on at a press conference
3) If retaliation by the administration gets to be too annoying, boycott a flight or press conference en masse. Let the President discover that being ignored is far worse than being criticised.
4) Cultivate "unnamed sources" and pool information to keep shunned journalists in the loop.

The auto industry and the news industry have the same problem. They are both turning out a lousy overpriced product. As a result, people are looking elsewhere. We still have a free market economy. Those who want to hear about more than photo ops want hard hitting informative news coverage in our troubled times. With the internet and talk radio, readers have choices. By the millions, they are changing their radio dials and voting with a computer mouse for honest reporting.

The Gray Lady needs a serious makeover because she has some young, hot competition that knows what the public wants. The public is real unhappy with the Gray Lady because she is letting herself go and they are starting to look elsewhere for understanding. Can this marriage be saved? The Gray Lady knows what she has to do.

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