21A017 Journalism, R.I.P. by Jim Davies, 5/11/2021
The last 25 years have seen a sea-change in the news business; some of the effects of that are very good, and some are deplorable.
The Internet made news information available free of charge to anyone on-line, which caused hundreds of newspapers - already reeling from TV competition - to go out of business. The chart (courtesy Pew Research) shows circulation about half what it was in 1982, lower than in 1940 and heading steeply South.
The result has been a consolidation into ownership by a small number of owners (who obviously control content) which in turn has changed the industry from a kaleidoscope of news and interpretations of news, into something much closer to a monolith or cartel, which publishes almost uniform information. Given the close relationship between those owners and government, the result is something like what prevailed in the USSR and in Nazi Germany: one single view. Thus, very quickly after the 2020 election for example, there was not one medium that disputed Biden's claim to have won, despite the reasoning here.
Prior to 1990, reporters or journalists were professionals who investigated every story using the five fundamental questions: what, when, where, who and why? Miss out one of the five, the story was not finished and an Editor might very well spike it. Today, journalists do not bother. They take down what government Press Officers dictate or hand out, like mere stenographers. There is no critical assessment, no independent thinking, no questioning of Authority.
Even PBS' News Hour on TV, which used to be a standard of professionalism, no longer offers even two contrasting views of what's going on, in its flagship Friday evening edition; there are just two Leftist opinions; one of them strong and the other, dilute. Another example: its two lady stars Tamara Keith and Amy Walter presented a discussion on 4/19 about Biden's $2.3T spending program, but failed to mention its major components, the source of funds, why the total had risen by 21% in a few weeks, how long the project would last or how likely it is to stay within budget.
I first noticed the media's huge credibility gap in 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks; reporting of the events was very good regarding What, When and Where, and amazingly fast (though not necessarily true) about Who; but there was nothing at all about Why. Unchanged since, here's what I wrote.
That's the bad news. The good part is that on the Internet, there's a wealth of news sources and interpretations, from publishers skilled and less skilled; the reader has to figure out which are more and which are less credible and in all cases, unfortunately, there's very little money to pay investigators to dig out the facts of the news event, ready to be polished with an interpretation. It's free; but you get what you pay for.
One excellent channel I encountered this year is Stossel TV. John Stossel is a seasoned reporter well known for his programs on ABC, and he publishes a whole series of 5-minute videos on the Net which pillory government. He may or may not be a 100% anarchist but those clips are so professional and arresting as to make anyone with a pulse stop and think. Presumably he is using his own resources to produce them, for it's hard to imagine the expenses are covered by donations - despite his half million "subscribers." That's true of all the "Blogosphere", of which this ZGBlog is part.
Stossel's videos can be found on YouTube, but he is very wise to host them on his own web site, lest the censors on YT take a dislike to what he promotes. That's how public opinion is being controlled; the next phase may be pressure on hosting services, so while much more expensive, a better protection yet is to have one's own server - to be one's own host.
Another source with some good content is Prager U. This is Conservative, not Libertarian or anarchist, but its contrast with Leftist orthodoxy is so well presented as to be highly refreshing. Bypass its pieces on religion, the military and police, and many of its hundreds of 5-minute videos, each professionally produced, are a delight. Like many conservatives Denis Prager is pretty good on economics, and one I found particularly informative relates to China's recent history. Prager U explicitly aims to re-educate those trapped in the uniformly Socialist university environments, and boasts of billions of views. It doesn't profess to break news, rather to interpret its significance. Like Stossel, Prager's videos are on his own web site, so as not to depend on a potentially hostile host.
A closing thought: bias in the news business doesn't have to be obvious. It can be set very easily by selecting the news stories reported, as well as giving them a specific slant. I learned this first-hand when producing the series of TV programs called The Freedom Alternative in the 1990s; every week, far more events took place than Peter Verderosa and I could possibly cover, so we cherry-picked those that tended to support the message we were trying to convery. That's exactly what they all do - but with messages very different from ours. Be aware!
P.S.: A good example of bias in the media is shown in an 8-minute video from Prager U, here. Kari Lake, a long-time TV news anchor, tells of why she quit her job because she was being required to read scripts that she knew were not true. Like all of Prager U, she's conservative rather than libertarian and refers to our adversaries as "liberal" rather than "socialist" - but her action was brave and supports the theme above.