The State of American Journalism on the 40th Anniversary of Watergate

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The Big Picture
by Glynn Wilson

Most American journalists are asleep in their comfortable beds this Sunday morning, their newspapers put to bed hours ago. Why, you may ask, do I sit here on the screened-in porch in the suburbs on Sunday mornings and pour my soul out to you instead of taking the day off myself? I will tell you in the end if you keep on reading.

No cooperate chain newspaper is paying me a salary to be here to try to keep an audience informed about what’s really going on in the world. True, I’ve worked for a lot of newspapers in the past, including the greatest one ever published. Yes, I will say it publicly and I don’t give a damn if it pisses off some mandarins in the publishing capital of New York. The Howell Raines New York Times was the best newspaper ever published. When Howell Raines and Rick Bragg became collateral damage in the Jayson Blair scandal, I bet Karl Rove had a hellofa gay orgy at his D.C. apartment.

Since then, there is no sense in trying to work for newspapers anymore. They are dying institutions and none of them see what I do as a priority anyway. That’s why I went independent on the Web seven years ago.

Here we are on the 40th anniversary of Watergate, but only long-time Washington Post reporters and editors are still around to write about it and, let’s face it, they won’t be around much longer.

Who will pick up the slack?


I will tell you who. Guys and gals like me who still see the need for serious news on American public affairs and investigative reporting, not just to hold the government accountable. These days, it’s the private corporations that hold all the money and power — after eight years with Bush and Cheney in the White House.

What their Christian Republican supporters don’t seem to realize is, there is very little we can do to hold corporations accountable, because they are not required to disclose information like the government, which is supposed to be accountable to the public — at least at the ballot box on election day.

Corporate CEOs who make more money now than any workers in the history of the world do not have to face re-election every four years. As long as their profit projections are met, by hook or by crook, they are continually rewarded with more stock options and bonuses — no matter what effect their policies have on the public health and welfare.

How in the hell are we supposed to investigate that on the meager donations of a few dedicated readers on the Web?

I will tell you how, and it’s the mechanism we’ve used with some success over the past couple of years to fund our operations. No, I don’t mean big salaries, but at least the expense money to get out on the road and take on some of these stories.

What’s left of the unions in this country, after 30 years of hiding from the fight and not taking on the corporations by learning their tactics in marketing and public relations, are going to have to get involved to help us build the new American press on the Web. That’s all there is too it. They have no choice, unless they want to end up like the public workers in Wisconsin and Alabama. And no, a Facebook page is no substitute for an experienced American journalist. Sorry, non-profits. Zuckerberg is not going to save you.

On top of that, the environmental community is going to have to get more involved in helping us fund the Web Press. Up to now, they have been able to turn to local newspapers for some help in publicizing their fights, and to social networking. But they must understand that this too will not be around much longer. Facebook has gone public now, and the news feed is about as helpful as a reality show on TeeVee.

People are not reading newspapers anymore. Advertisers are gradually moving to the Internet, admittedly a good bit slower in the South than the rest of the country.

But I don’t care what the tea party hold outs to change think. Our information future is on the Web. Television is not going to take up the slack. The Boob Tube is going to become even more enamored of celebrity gossip, sensational crime and cheap reality shows. There are no more Walter Cronkites on the horizon for television news.

Sure, television is not dying like newspapers. It will be around for a very long time in the digital age. When the news is a major visual disaster, like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, cable news will still cover some big stories. But the back and forth blather that passes for coverage of public affairs does more harm to the public dialogue in this country than good and just succeeds in dividing us further as a nation.

The “Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart knew this when he took on the talking heads at CNN’s “Crossfire” a few years back — and basically destroyed the show. It was canceled, but where did all those viewers go? Over to Fox News, where this blathering idiot Sean Hannity from Alabama and his pretend-to-be a liberal Democrat partner put on a show for the less than educated audience, and helped teeter this country even further to the right than ever before.

The liberal trial lawyers are also going to have to get involved in helping us build this Web Press, although don’t count on them in places like Alabama. They mostly supported Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore’s return to the state Supreme Court this year. Perhaps someone at the so-called Association for Justice nationally might see the folly of this and finally come around to help us build a winning progressive coalition in a few years. Otherwise, the entire practice of suing insurance companies and other corporations is going to go the way of the Dodo bird.

You might as well forget trying to sue anybody in Alabama already. Even if you win a jury verdict, the Court of Civil Appeals or the state Supreme Court will just throw the case out or reduce the verdict to next to nothing, just like they did in the Exxon case.

The crowd we already have on the Web is mainly made up of urban progressive beer drinkers. So take notice political candidates who might want to make a difference. If the Democratic Party is going to survive in the South, in Alabama, this is the coalition you need to be working to build. Besides, did you just not take notice of how much money President Obama has been able to raise by using the Internet?

It should be obvious by now that the Republican tea party has the religious vote locked up for a generation. Some of these people may also be hooked up to the Internet, but it is already quite obvious they are not interested in the facts. Just check the anonymous comments on any story at al.com and you will see where they want to take the Web. If you like living in La-la-land, keep supporting that stupid bullshit.

If you want to see a better world in your lifetime, you better embrace the Web Press I am talking about and make sure it survives until we can get it fully funded. Otherwise, who knows what kind of disaster will come along and destroy this world even more?

To the conspiracy theorists who think it is hopeless and the world is going to end anyway, take notice. The Mayans who ended their calendar in December 2012 died as a society because they committed human sacrifices to a fake god and dumped the bodies into their only source of clean drinking water. They may have figured out some mathematics and astronomy, but they did not know what we know now.

You want oil and gas fracking in the Talladega National Forest? Then just turn on your TeeVee, because you won’t see it mentioned there at all. If it is mentioned, it certainly won’t be investigated or opposed.

Now, why do I write this kind of stuff on Sundays? Because I am not bound by the 200-year-old space constraints of the printing press, or the half-a-century old time constraints of television. I get to see what’s in the Sunday papers online and write about things on the same day and publish almost instantaneously after an article or column is written.

Many people now get their news in Twitter Tweets, on Facebook or some still via e-mail. By the time the evening news comes on and the newspaper is delivered in the morning, it is already old news. People who keep up with the news already know what’s happened. Why would they watch network television news — or pay to have the newspaper delivered?

As in all things, some people are slow to embrace change and there is a certain nostalgia for how things used to be. Some people still like turning those printed pages, even a number of so-called environmentalists I know, who have perhaps never even considered how bad the newspaper itself is for the environment. Have you ever considered how many trees it takes to print a Sunday paper? We wrote about that 17 years ago, about the time I quit reading in print and started getting my news through the Internet. Why should I still have to provide the link now?

I understand all about nostalgia. It’s just that I got over it a long time ago.

As time goes by, more and more people will get over it and embrace the new technology, just like they did the telephone in its day and the cell phone more recently.

But that doesn’t mean you have to depend on just any old blogger for information. I challenge you to find a blogger or a Facebook headline chaser that can keep you as informed as we do on the big news of the day. As I make the case in the ongoing series on making democracy work, education and experience still matter. We have what it takes to pioneer this new technology and tell the stories that need to be told. We just need a few more people willing to get onboard and fund it.

It will happen in the not too distant future. That is inevitable. So I will be right here on Sundays when you want to find out what’s really going on. I’m not going anywhere, at least not yet. See you next week.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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