following is the sixth part of an ongoing Color of Law series.
here to read
any of the commentaries in this series.
Who stopped the presses? Obviously, it is a question
that many are asking these days.
It is a bit sobering to witness the apparent demise
of the newspaper industry. Not unlike dominoes, newspapers around
the U.S. are toppling, closing their doors, filing for bankruptcy,
or ceasing their print operations and only remaining online. As
someone who has written op-eds for newspapers throughout the nation
over the past decade, I can appreciate the importance of having
a vigorous and viable press in this country. In order for true
democracy to work, we need news media that will speak truth to power,
that will expose, without apology, government misconduct, corporate
corruption and official wrongdoing. That was the original purpose
of the press, after all.
But as someone who has always had one foot firmly
planted in the independent media camp—as a former producer for Democracy
Now!, former video documentary producer, a writer for a number of
independent publications, and a political blogger—I understand two
things: First, independent media came into being to fill a void
because the mainstream media was flat on its behind. Fast asleep.
Second, mainstream media have failed their mission by becoming too
cozy with the powerful forces they were supposed to police.
Independent media have come to the rescue to save
the public from a news industry which historically may not have
reflected their reality, their perspective. For example, the Black,
Latino and other ethnic press provide a crucial alternative to a
media establishment which often ignores these communities, or seeks
to depict them as criminals or buffoons. Progressive media provide
an alternative to a mainstream press which is too often White, conservative
and male centered. It is worth noting that although the nation
has an African American president, the White House press corps,
lacking in diversity, does not reflect this reality. But as newsrooms
shrink, the diversity problem only gets worse.
To be sure, there are many good newspapers which
are struggling, and unfortunately many invaluable publications which
are falling or have fallen by the wayside. The reasons for their
demise are various: the Internet, blogs, an unsustainable business
model of providing free online content, etc.
would suggest some additional reasons that some newspapers have
failed. Too often, they simply have not served their readers, and
the product, like a GM car, has lost its appeal. Many news companies—
not just papers, but TV as well—are owned by corporate conglomerates
and entertainment companies. This reality is reflected in the softball,
celebrity gossip orientation of many so-called news outlets. Governed
by the bottom line and cost-cutting measures, these papers have
eliminated their City Hall beat reporters, and other reporters who
are in tune with the pulse of a given city. In the absence of seasoned
journalists who can actually report on anything, because those people
were already laid off, these newspapers become a collection of news
wires and press releases, in a pamphlet. And who is paying for
that when you can read it online?
The damage has been done in terms of the giant pass
that the news media have taken on the important issues of the day.
During the Iraq War, the mainstream media took the opportunity to
act as nationalistic cheerleaders, the propaganda arm of the Bush
White House— beating the drums of war and almost celebrating the
thousands upon thousands of deaths that would inevitably occur.
As cheerleaders for corporate America, the mainstream
press fell asleep on the Wall Street crisis. Over-caffeinated blowhard
snake-oil salesmen posing as business journalists were in abundance
during the heyday of the financial sector. But where were the probing
exposés on the problems of deregulation, and the thoughtful analyses
on the consequences of gluttony on Wall Street?
Even as we speak, what about coverage on the thwarted
assassination plots against President Obama? Or a meaningful discussion
on the malicious and deleterious effects of U.S. drug policy? How
about a substantive debate in the mainstream news about the madness
that represents America’s gun policy, and the lethal combination
of gun proliferation, economic recession and untreated mental illness—of
individuals and of the society— that plays itself out in communities
throughout the country?
Well, many newspapers and other corporate news venues
will not offer and have not offered such valuable content. Their
game is trifling and sloppy. So if they die, it wouldn’t be too
soon, as they provided us little benefit in the first place. That
is why people increasingly turn to independent news sources, sources
such as the one you are currently reading.
The winds of change are blowing, and there is about
to be a transformation in the press. We do not yet know what the
world will look like when all is said and done. Perhaps mainstream
newspapers, and other publications will increasingly become nonprofit
entities, seeking a business model that makes them truly accountable
to the public. And the blogosphere has been picking up the slack,
having emerged as a legitimate source for quality information that
often is unavailable elsewhere. One thing is certain: independent
muckraking news media with paid professional journalists, fact-gatherers
and commentators must be supported if the press is to survive.
In crisis there is opportunity. Journalists, columnists,
media practitioners, bloggers, you name it, need to start conversations
around the nation, if they have not already done so, on the future
of the news. We have the power to start the presses again—they’ll
just look a little different the next time around.
here to read
any of the commentaries in this series.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a journalist
and human rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor
to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty
International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police
brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional
Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. He
blogs at davidalove.com, Daily
Kos, and Open Salon. Click here to contact Mr. Love.