Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Why should newspapers be allowed to die? The biggest argument is simply no one wants to read them.

Why is that? My observation was in the way the newspapers, the ones you want to save, handled Bush's policies and their acquiescence to his war and terrorism agenda. The Judith Miller incident did more damage to readership than anything else I can think of.

Most news papers, especially the New York Times and the Washington Post have been pretty much been controlled by the government, especially the military and intelligence agencies. When Bush was busy engaging in war crimes, where were these papers? Where was the outrage? Where was critical reporting? The papers acted more like the USSR's Pravda than real and free newspapers. Many of us haven't forgotten and believe that newspapers should be able to experience the "karma" of their actions.

To allow a "bailout" of such newspapers puts the news media more in the hands of the government. What if the newspaper that is critical of the government should experience a withholding of bailout money if it is too critical?

Putting the news media under this form of dependency actually threatens free speech and the independence of journalism. In other words, if journalism becomes dependent on the government for its operation, we will have a more Pravda-like media in America.

Journalism isn't dying--one of the biggest lies told. Journalism is actually flourishing and doing quite well. Journalism has been taken away from the "professionals" and from the hands of corporations that will bend over easily to the government to the hands of so-called "amateur" journalists and independent media that the government cannot control.

I'm sorry, I do not wish to read or buy corporate newspapers and do not wish to be forced to pay, with my tax money, for the government support of compromised and dumbed down papers.

Let them die and the sooner, the better for all of us. Journalism will thrive and there will always be plenty of journalists covering the real news. It may not be a "newspaper," but with an Internet connection, you can get news that is uncensored and absent from corporate control.

Josiah Phillips

Oakland, CA

Mar 27 2009 - 9:21pm

Web Letter

It may be tragic that major newspapers in the United States are folding but there's still great reporting made available daily through blogs and websites. Many of us only read print at the airport when free wireless is not available.

Personally, I tune into FightingBob.com for a gritty analysis of local and world news. Also, I have found that AlJezera-English, which is available on YouTube, has reporters covering interesting stories abroad and locally. Good journalism is abundant and easy to find, you just need to discern what is spin. And that was always the case.

Karen Rybold Chin

Oconomowoc, WI

Mar 27 2009 - 12:53pm

Web Letter

After last week's exhibition of populist outrage and attempts to set executive compensation by mob rule, the authors' suggestion to rescue journalism with government subsidies has a particularly hollow ring. If the hallmark of good journalism is independence, that is not the route you would take.

I was particularly astounded to see the suggestion of municipal ownership as one of a number of potential saviors for newspapers. If you think that is a benign concept, you have no comprehension of local politics. I cannot imagine a small town mayor who would sit idly by if he saw his power being threatened by negative coverage. Likewise, I can imagine the newspaper's funding being forever threatened by opposition town council members who perceive the paper to be in the mayor's pocket.

Finally, I have to say the authors' prescriptions seem less about a progressive evolution of journalism than about trying to dial back to some imaginary, golden age of newspapers. I have a much more optimistic view of the plight of journalism. Like so many other institutions over the years, it is now in a period of upheaval. The weak will fail, but the strong will survive, and no doubt upstarts yet to come will one day be another generation's "Gray Ladies."

John Christofferson

West Dundee, IL

Mar 27 2009 - 10:52am

Web Letter

A U.S. taxpayer bailout of the same Big Media Monopoly conglomerates and their bourgeois press reporters/editors/gatekeepers/censors that acted as cheerleaders for the U.S. attack on Iraq and the Wall Street Bank bailout is an anti-democratic idea.

A financial bailout of the mainstream media conglomerates and their predominately white middle-class non-leftist reporters/stenographers would not benefit U.S. working-class people during the current economic depression anymore than has the Big Media Monopoly-supported financial bailout of the Big Banks and firms like AIG.

Under an imperialist, plutocratic political and economic system like we have now in the United States, a corporate welfare state-subsidized press in each U.S. city would just mean a print version of the kind of U.S. power elite propaganda that we're fed today by PBS, NPR and the BBC. People in the United States also do not now need a U.S. government-subsidized domestic print version of the Voice of America.

Instead, all the $60,000 per year U.S. journalists who are being laid off by the Big Media Monopoly conglomerates that are shutting down their unprofitable newspapers might consider just pooling their resources and forming new newspapers which are run as professional journalist-owned cooperatives, etc. and are free of either elite foundation or U.S. federal government financial and political control.

At the same time, U.S. newspaper production plants and newsrooms which are shut down by the Big Media Monopoly conglomerates should be immediately placed under local U.S. working-class community and newspaper employee ownership and run by democratically-elected community control boards. And perhaps some of these shut down newspapers could then start publishing again on a non-profit, corporate advertisement-free, uncensored basis and be freely distributed to local residents.

Bail out the People, not the Big Media Monopoly's pro-capitalist press!

Bob Feldman

Boston, MA

Mar 27 2009 - 10:01am

Web Letter

Messrs Nichols and McChesney long for something that, like innocence, when lost cannot be regained. The times, people and newspapers have changed. The newspapers are going away. The original 3 (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks will soon be out of the news business, at least officially. They actually quit the news business years ago. I am not certain that the narrower cable networks "news" departments will long be viable. I mean to say that it is not just newspapers and print journalism that are in trouble, but most of the organized reporting media.

The reasons for this are manifold. It will be a lot easier in fifty years to look back and see some smoking guns, but here are a few:

* Post literate culture. No mistake that 1977 is a birth year given as a marker for readers/non-readers. These people never needed to look up a box score, or read a recipe, or read about a new album. Declining literacy among this age cohort means that many cannot read the paper even if they wanted to. Video is how these people get their information.

* Easy life/easy money/physical ease. Now virtually everyone who wants it has air conditioning, cable, too much to eat, too much to drink, and all the free entertainment one could possibly use. Picking up a newspaper, reading it, flipping back and forth, folding it, all these things are just too much work for a lot of people. I still love the physical part of newspaper reading, but know (from asking all kinds of people about it) that I am in the minority. Reading the same publication on line is a completely different experience.

* Blown credibility. The press (and most but by no means all) of the journalists cast their lot with the soft left, and it shows. Coverage has been incomplete and obviously so on most issues -- right and left. This has engendered a general feeling of distrust of purportedly objective journalistic organizations. Expecting people to pay for the privilege of reading something they are pretty sure is incomplete, if not dishonest, strikes me as hopeful at best. The loss of confidence in journalists is something that will, in the very near future, contribute to a convulsion in this nation we have not seen in 150 years.

* Apathy. Most people just do not care. When an over-choiced, over-stimulated, semi-literate, vaguely distrustful, greedy bunch of people hear about failing newspapers and the end of journalism as we know it, they just do not really give it much thought. Would you miss channel 327 if your local system dropped it? Probably not. Do you watch the local access broadcast of the city council? Probably not. Would you miss them? Not likely.

These are such interesting times. The 1977 crowd (and many others, to be sure) depends on Stewart for real news, and Bono for their spiritual guidance, and Myspace to keep in touch with their "friends". Newspapers, the first draft of history, are going to miss out on some of the biggest stories in the past (or next) two or three hundred years. What a shame.

Brian Reilly

Tipton, MI

Mar 25 2009 - 6:28pm

Web Letter

I scan and/or read about thirty publications from around the world daily and from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum. In the late sixties, I edited the student newspaper at Emory University in Atlanta and for a while, was a college stringer for the New York Times and, for a summer, edited weekend news on the largest radio station in the South. In high school, I covered local council meetings for a suburban weekly, and after college and after becoming "radicalized" and deeply involved in anti-war, civil rights, and labor issues, wrote articles for "The Great Speckled Bird". Subsequently I worked for over 20 years organizing public employees in over 20 states. That is my perspective.

I regret to say that overall journalism in newspapers and television stinks. Many are ill-informed. You can count on two hands the number of reporters who know anything about labor unions. They simply adopt the positions of management. As for the media's record on Vietnam and other wars of aggression through Iraq--give me a break. They are worthless. And the bloviating idiots on TV and cable have no accountability. Practically all journalism and opinion media is now directed toward a "niche", so let each "niche" finance them. Not one dollar from taxpayers. However, time to get more income from the right-wing bigots who control the airwaves.

Rodney Derrick

Durham, NC

Mar 25 2009 - 8:25am

Web Letter

I was born in 1947 in the segregated, dry (i.e., no alcohol sales permitted) state of Mississippi and later moved to Tallahassee, FL, Black Mountain, IL and Riverside, IL. As I grew up, I observed the impact of good amd great journalism. Much of it came from small, rurally located newspapers. As a result, I developed a positive bias toward news journalism.

As an adult, I always subscribed to a local daily as I moved around--Atlanta, Houston, Greensboro and, finally, Asheville, NC. In the 27 years I have been in Black Mountain, I have watched Asheville's two dailies merge and be sold twice, ultimately, to Gannett. And I've watched the quality (which was never high) steadily sink lower and lower. This was exacerbated by Gannett's purchase of my small town's weekly to eliminate competition. As a result, I dropped my subscription to the daily and then to my hometown weekly because of the poor local reporting. Furthermore, the new free, weekly independents have done a pretty good job.

Despite literally hundreds of letters and phone calls giving story leads and ideas to the steady stream of editors and reporters who have come through the mainline newspapers, I have rarely experienced much success. Why? It appears to me that it is mostly incompetent news journalism. I emphasize news journalism.

Neither the reporters nor their editors appear to have much grasp of topics upon which they report. They don't appear to do much research into the subjects about which they write except by asking "experts" for their opinions. And, they don't understand that most "spinning" is really dissembling--the hiding of the truth under a false appearance.

In short, they are wordsmiths who don't understand the meanings and power of the words they smith!

Finally, like the politicians about whom they report, almost none are open to any critical review of their work and, God forbid, capable of acknowledging even clear errors.

Let me end with an independently verifiable example.

Last summer, the FDA put out a warning about about potential salmonella contamination of tomatoes. The releases were one of the worst examples of obfuscation I have ever read. They were structured exactly the opposite of how they would have been if they were meant to be understood. Though only involving red tomatoes--slicers and two other types--the poor wording confused almost everyone who read them. It was reported primarily by slightly editing these poorly worded FDA releases. And, in a few cases including one day's updates by NPR, they were shortened inaccurately.

Unfortunately, this occurred just as our local, very important tomato crop came in. Though never even under review by the FDA, our local tomato sales--both wholesale and retail--were devastated. And our farmers who were in the second year of terrible drought were left with nutritious, great tasting tomatoes they couldn't sell even at $5 for a 25 pound box. The box cost itself cost $1.50!

NPR reported an FDA release that narrowed the search as broadening it. I immediately attempted to call NPR news and was told that it didn't accept phone calls until after 9 AM. It was then 7:35 AM. I called two local affiliates and they couldn't get through either. When I finally got through and pointed out NPR's error (including web links that clearly showed it) I asked that NPR issue a correction. As best I can tell, the NPR news twice hourly news summary was probably broadcast three more times reporting exactly the opposite of the truth. That same news summary was, apparently, posted on its website for, at least, three hours. Not only did NPR not issue a correction, it never acknowledged its error.

Later, mainline news journalism accepted as the source of the outbreak the supposed finding of one contaminated jalapeno pepper in a small produce distributorship after the number of reported cases had dropped off precipitously.

This poor journalism was led by the AP and tagged onto by almost every news outlet despite my efforts and those of dozens of others including state departments of agriculture, trade publications and an excellent web journalist, the Perishable Pundit.

In short, I have no question that large newspapers are in decline primarily because of crummy journalism.

Harry Hamil

Black Mountain, NC

Mar 24 2009 - 8:36am

Web Letter

How strange. I just wrote something similar at my blog (http://NABNYC.blogspot.com) about the need for a formal vehicle to fund progressive media. We need a progressive media alliance and trust.

Why do progressives tell working people that they must have a union, they must organize and act together as a group because when they're on their own, they have no power? Yet the progressive media is largely separated and acting as individuals, and seem confused as to why they have no power on their own. The answer is the same thing: we need to get organized.

For example, we need progressive radio, yet it has been relatively unsuccessful, apparently following the traditional model of relying mostly on advertising. But we need people like Peter Werbe, Mike Malloy (who's trying to go it on his own for now), Randi Rhodes, and I'm sure many others. As for blogs and investigative research, there are Common Dreams, Truthout, Danny Schechter's group, Truthdig, The Nation and Z Magazine. I would say the members should be people or groups who do not have traditional sources of funding, or don't have enough to keep going.

There should be a progressive media trust fund. A board which consists of progressives from the community level as well as maybe a couple of well-known names. Members of the progressive media alliance would be established at the beginning with a certain number of magazines, radio, blogs, movie makers, documentary filmmakers and maybe book writers. Each member would be required to devote time to public fundraising activities (like Habitat) and would be entitled to receive a share from the trust fund. For example, they could go speak at a local group, but the funds raised would go into the trust. New members would be considered as additional funding became available.

See the full article at http://NABNYC.blogspot.com

Nancy A. Butterfield

Camarillo, CA

Mar 23 2009 - 1:15pm

Web Letter

We believe the meltdown of America could not have occurred without an assist from media.

Media should have been a bastion of truth. Instead it seems they sold their integrity somewhere along the way, pursuing a politically correct agenda, ignoring serious matters and feeding us Hollywood fluff pieces. In a seeming betrayal of the public trust, media shielded what was going on in the streets of America by their refusal to listen to the people.

From our viewpoint, media is as responsible for the financial collapse of America as politicians and corporate entities.

We tried continuously to expose what we saw happening in the streets. Media refused to hear us until in disgust we stopped buying newspapers and initiated blogs to communicate.

One simple example exhibits my point. At a community meeting, a roomful of citizens listened to a politician explain a development proposal, telling us the developer volunteered to pay $250,000, half the cost of the community plan rewrite, which was needed before the project could be considered. The community didn't want the project. We didn't need a community plan rewrite and didn't need to spend $500,000.

Public comment at the meeting unanimously protested it was conflict of interest for the developer to pay for the plan rewrite. The politician assured us it would be a lengthy process before anything was decided and approval was reached.

Contrary to what those who were present heard the politician said, the newspaper report of the community meeting said we approved the proposal. We did not. The newspaper report further changed the amount the developer was to pay from $250,000 to $75,000.

Citizens who didn't attend the meeting, of course, believed what they read. And those of us who attended wondered why what we heard the politician say was different from what was printed in the paper. And so it started.

We, who attended the meeting, protested the inaccuracy of the article to the newspaper. It was acknowledged the reporter didn't attend the meeting. We asked the reporter to issue a correction as to what really occurred at the meeting. The reporter refused, saying they printed what they were told.

Alerted, over the last six years we watched a blatant bias and consistent manipulation of news reporting, to the point that we no longer believe what we read.

We stopped buying newspapers. I don't know why the media find the simple answer so elusive. We feel betrayed. Every story that could have been told of the disaster we saw shaping up on Main Street, America, that was shrugged off as unimportant and irrelevant has contributed to the current situation.

We've submitted stories to every major newspapers. No one wanted to report a gun being put in a woman's face over a real estate transaction. They didn't want to report a senior's land being taken by cons. They didn't want to report developers' discrepancies or politician's conflict of interest.

Newspapers started catering to advertisers in favor of truth in journalism. Media sold out and contributed to the financial demise of America. I wouldn't spend a dime on a newspaper even if the Internet went down.

Ellie Simon

California City [?], CA

Mar 23 2009 - 2:04am

Web Letter

When thinking about newspapers and the Fourth Estate, the first thing to do is remember. The article provides fleeting remembrance of "our democracy." Remember our democracy before it began to take root. It began to take root not because of a bunch of journalists and newspapers but because the father of our country, the journalist par excellence Thomas Paine, wouldn't shut up. Remember when the anarchists were pushing for the eight-hour day, and the journalists and newspapers beat the drums till anarchists were hanged. Remember when Truman had a good relationship with Iran. And soon our democracy was allied with Saddam, and we supplied him with weapons of mass destruction. Remember when in 1980 the United States Cogress in effect declared Greed is Good. And "newspapers" are still trumpeting, "Greed is Good."

Retired United Auto Workers Local 774,

Louis Ricker

Italy, TX

Mar 22 2009 - 2:06pm