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Journalism Today — Gone And All But Forgotten

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The author of this entry is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or

January 23, 2011 | 2,176 views | 7 comments

Harlingen, Texas, January 20, 2011: It is hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that 60 years have passed since I enrolled in my first journalism class. However, the calendar doesn’t lie to me, so it has been more than half a century. It is also that long ago that I heard, for the first time, the definition of “news”.

According to Professor Sermilion, standing in front of our class: “News is a heretofore unreported fact of significant interest to the general public.”

The key word in that definition is “fact”. My teacher of those many years ago did not say unreported rumor, idea, assumption, wish, distortion or out and out lie. I realize everything changes with the passage of time, but I never thought fact would be changed to fiction. How wrong I was.

When we look at television journalism today, most reporting is little more than rewrites of news stories from other networks or stations. From the major networks to the small independent stations we have seen the closure of remote bureaus, a reduction of personnel, a decline in on-air talent and a propensity to rewrite everything except the company logo. Original reporting is a rare bird indeed.

Radio limits itself to picking up feeds from other sources and basically a rip-and-read approach to reporting everything. If it is not fed to radio stations off a standard network or dedicated news feed, it doesn’t make it into the next newscast.

Newspapers around the country have been in decline for several decades. USA TODAY, our largest national newspaper with a circulation of about 2.1 million has been steadily dropping numbers. Many attribute this to the recession and a decline in hotel utilization, but if we view prior circulation figures it can be seen that the percentage of lost readership is now in the double digits. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, our second-largest newspaper in terms of circulation is the only publication that can report an increase in numbers and that is less than 1%. The NEW YORK TIMES shouldn’t even be addressed. Most people know it has been in a crash dive for years.

There have been many reasons set forth as to why the support for traditional news sources is on the wane. People point to the Internet, cable and satellite television and even cell phone usage as reasons why traditional news outlets are continuing to fade away. However, the strongest argument for this decline seems to be the takeover of both print and electronic news sources by large conglomerates and extensive mergers that have recast news outlets into market oriented “bottom line” operations. We cannot ignore the role of the Internet in this decline, but that is not necessarily due to blogs or e-zine publications. With more and more extended Internet usage, advertising revenue for major news outlets has plummeted. With that decline in revenue, budget cuts have seriously damaged many news organizations.

The moves to consolidate, reduce staffing, close bureaus and view everything from a profit and loss vantage point may have improved the bottom line in the short term, but it has also brought about the loss of important independent news stories and popular coverage that produced readers, listeners or viewers.

Our own local television station has seen a one-third cut in personnel during the past year. Even with local news, those who remain on the air must shoot their own video, edit, write copy and deliver their own stories.

The local daily newspaper, THE VALLEY MORNING STAR, has terminated almost all of its experienced personnel; even the managing editor was given a pink slip. The paper is now staffed with writers of limited experience and printed by a sister publication 50 miles away. Most of the news is straight off the wire. Major local human-interest stories have almost faded from print. Circulation has declined about 5,000 copies during the past decade.

While newsrooms shrink and print dailies decline, there seems to be a growth of the small town weekly publications. Ten years ago a friend of mine started a small weekly publication in a neighboring town. Today he has grown that business into four weekly publications in four different locales. The secret: local news that is based on fact and is of significant interest to the public.

If journalism is to survive in the United States we must return to the important roles of serving the public instead of the corporate bank balance. Journalism must return to being the national watchdog instead of being the current national lapdog. The media is essential to democracy for it is the tool by which society makes informed decisions.

It is true that the majority of Americans hold professional journalism in such low esteem they would welcome its demise. That attitude, however, is detrimental to the nation, for journalism is indispensable for any society to remain free and democratic.

The country has not yet formulated a plan to save journalism, but it must do so if our nation is to survive. As it is reshaped into an acceptable format the public will recognize and support all new journalism effort must first of all protect the First Amendment. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are essential to having a free society.

Journalism outlets must relearn how to produce quality coverage. The public expects nothing less when seeking news. It must also hold the powerful accountable, be it the government or corporate institutions. Above all the remodeled journalism must promote public accountability. It should serve the public, not the government or the news organization. All of this is about 180 degrees out of sync with what is happening in journalism today, but the profession must commit itself to a complete makeover and attitude change -- or hang out the “closed” sign on all the newsroom doors.

Semper Fidelis
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Your Opinions and Comments

Ms. S. V.  
February 2, 2011 6:09pm
Sam Donaldson. It's no surprise. He can join Dan Rather.

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
February 2, 2011 10:14am
And, we have a brand new example of Journalism "gone to the dogs"...Sam Donaldson this week praised Al Jazeera (spelling?) for their coverage of the Egyptian uprising. And, as I recall, Al Jazeera (need to look up... More ›

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
January 26, 2011 5:29pm

Alvin Charmaine  
January 26, 2011 4:42pm
I prefer to get my news from actors and beauty queens. Give me a crying druggie mormon and a retarded beauty queen.

Ken Semlinger  
Poth, TX  
January 26, 2011 12:13pm
It is true that today most of the major media has replaced "fact" with "spin" or politically correct pap. Fact is in short supply and takes some digging to find in most cases. I subscribe to two print... More ›

4 th Generation Texan  
Sutherland Springs  
January 24, 2011 6:35pm
I suspect that many many people now have access to a whole lot of information and have discovered that most of the big newspapers and news service bureaus no longer print only the facts...they are constantly reporting information... More ›

Senior Citizen  
Wilson County  
January 23, 2011 6:06pm
This is true, but another aspect in addition to journalism's focus on the bottom line is that they have become political pawns of their owners. It's sad.

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