Reflections on an independent press

"For the first time in our history, the news increasingly is produced by companies outside journalism, and this new economic organization is important. We are facing the possibility that independent news will be replaced by self-interested commercialism posing as news. If that occurs, we will lose the press as an independent institution, free to monitor the other powerful force and institutions in society."
-- Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, "The Elements of Journalism"

With the advent of the Internet, cable television and the increase in popularity of radio talk shows, it seems anybody and everybody is "doing journalism."
Is this a good thing?
In the last decade, journalists have been taking an inventory of themselves and their industry as polls and studies continue to show public distrust of the press.
This continued erosion of public trust should be alarming not only to the media but to citizens as well.
Without an independent press to provide accurate and useful information, it will be hard for citizens to exercise their right of self
government.
While other technologies and social movements have brought about revolutions in the media -- the telegraph, the radio, the television, the Civil War, the influx of immigrants, the Cold War to name a few out of many --othing has impacted the industry in such a way as cable television, the Internet, talk radio, and even cam corders.
This modern technology obviously brings about an immediacy in news but it also tears down the traditional role of "the media" as "the gatekeepers."
If the New York Times decides not to print a story, a Web site or a radio talk show could give the issue prominence. This means that news has a greater chance to reach a greater audience.
So the flood of news has become torrential. But is it always useful? Is it truthful? Is it independent?
One could argue that any media outlet will put its own "spin" on the news it reports.
Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalism, and Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, say that journalism provides something unique to a culture -- independent, reliable, accurate, and comprehensive information that citizens require to be free.
"A journalism that is asked to provide something other than that subverts democratic culture."
An interesting point they make is that traditionally people have viewed censorship as coming from the government. But when news outlets owned by larger corporations are used to promote their conglomerate parent's products, to engage in subtle lobbying or corporate rivalry, or are intermingled with advertising to boost profits, isn't that censorship?
It may be more subtle than jack-booted thugs kicking in doors in the middle of the night and setting a printing press on fire but the end result -- the cutting off of useful, independent information -- is the same.
Because it plays such a critical role in a citizenry's ability to self rule, Kovach and Rosenstiel argue that an independent press is more crucial to a democratic society than capitalism.
Singapore actually has a thriving economic base and its media are bent on promoting the ideals of capitalism. The country's media, however, are virtually controlled by the government so the country's people do not have the information to participate in the public process.
Journalists are going to have to continue this re-evaluation. They are going to have to maintain a conviction based on what an independent press means.
And citizens are going to have to demand that from journalists. Like going to the grocery store, they are going to have to care about where they get their information and what information they are consuming

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press, the First Amendment and the newspaper industry. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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