The professionalization of journalism and celebrification of journalists have severely damaged the credibility of the whole journalistic enterprise. Journalism was once not a university-level program of study, and individual journalists were not and did not expect to be treated as celebrated professionals. Sadly, the quality and repute of journalism has diminished considerably since this changed.
What explains this paradoxical development?
News reporters used to be amateurish and blatantly biased in their news reporting, but because there were a multitude of perspectives and biases — sometimes even on the same paper — the discerning public could sift through the medley of opinions and reach their own conclusions. The lazy reader at least would know where the reporter was coming from ideologically. And yet the press exposed corruption and held the American government accountable. Their role was not high-profile, high-clout like our modern version, but compared to any other political society on the planet a century or two ago, newspapers were valuable in educating the public.
Vaunted by courageous field reporting of the two world wars, journalism has since become a noble profession. Simultaneously, the technologies of radio, motion pictures and television broadcasting opened up new possibilities of mass communication. Some journalists began seeing their job as writing the first draft of history. Others reported only the facts, as exemplified by Walter Cronkite's famous line, "And that's the way it is." As the dissemination of news over radio and television became normative business, the practice and objective of both broadcast and print journalism became partially crippled and nearsighted. Of course, corporate money has not directly inhibited the practice of honest journalism. Reporters are free to maintain their generally leftist views that big business is evil and out to screw the little guy, and that government action on behalf of liberal, righteous causes is good. Rather, these biases reach the viewer through the story selection capacity of editors and producers.
In broadcast journalism, however, there is an additional mischief: Stories and reports must be produced in hackneyed, formulaic ways in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator and hence attract the greatest number of viewers, enabling the station to maximize advertising revenue. Compounding the problem is the cult of celebrity as it applies to television news anchors and newspaper pundits; once a journalist has reached the top of the profession, he or she is socially on par with other visible personalities and has immediate access to the rich, famous and powerful. Now endeared to the elite, they concern to maintain status over taking risks to break truly significant news.
Alternatively, the Dan Rathers and Bob Woodwards of the world become the mouthpieces for East Coast white liberals, as their acceptance into the Manhattan social club initiates the transformation of their news writing and coverage to better reflect the social and political interests of the cultural elite. Too often these journalists see their jobs as the fulfillment of the mass media role prophesied by Antonio Gramsci — an institution to educate the proletariat masses, empowering them to eventually seize political control from the ruling capitalist bourgeoisie. Never mind that such Marxist analysis is intellectually passé. Their cookie-cutter anti-establishment liberalism — which holds that pro-lifers are by definition nutty, Antonin Scalia holds extreme views, and anyone who regularly attends church services must be intellectually inferior — instead alienates the average American.
These views surface not because of active propagation but through word selection; who is quoted and how; which facts, numbers and polls are used; and which stories are even covered, printed or aired. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online observed, "If the apocalypse were nigh, the (New York) Times would run a headline 'World to End Tomorrow: Women, Blacks in Peril.'" The impairment of journalists' reporting by their narrow cultural perspective offends not just conservatives and religious people, who preach endlessly about liberal bias in journalism to an audience that is often just the choir. Many blacks, Hispanics and Asians also detest the manner in which they are politically and culturally stereotyped by the media, while progressives lament what they consider to be corporate-mouthpiece journalism.
Still, even though most average Americans cannot put their finger on it, they sense an underlying bias and tune out. In light of this, one can almost be thankful that the liberalism of most journalists is neutralized by the intensely corporate nature of modern mass media enterprises to produce a peculiar static instead. Hence, the rise of alternative news sources — conservative talk radio, ethnic and cable news channels and Internet sites that range the political and linguistic spectrums. Here, the truly disenfranchised thinkers and writers can engage an audience that otherwise exhibits increasing apathy toward the numbing idea of what today passes as mainstream journalism.
It's a sad state of affairs indeed, but thankfully news channels such as Fox and web-logger (blogger) sites such as www.andrewsullivan. com and www.instapundit.com are breaking the mold. The journalism and commentary from these sources represent a breath of fresh air in the current stifling media atmosphere, and signal that perhaps brighter days for news junkies are not far off. Mainstream journalism should embrace and interact with these new news trends; it may be their last chance to hold onto what little credibility they still have left.