The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
True enough, as one reader noted recently, the Daily Star’s morning crop of letters beats a double shot of espresso to get the blood flowing. Last week, however, one hit me like a Lysol margarita. The writer, objecting to a Leonard Pitts Jr. column, pronounced: “Journalism is dead in America.”
I’m pleased to confirm that journalism is not dead even though, increasingly, some brains seem to be. We now face a growing COVID-19 calamity. In the long term, climate collapse imperils humanity. This is no time to poke out our own eyes like some crazed Oedipus Rex.
In fact, solid, credible reporting and fact-based news analyses are better than they have ever been. But it takes some thought to find them among a towering slag heap of shoddy work tainted by outright propaganda. “Media” is as meaningless a descriptor as “food.”
Someone who stuffs a shopping cart with junk food and leaves nutritious options on the shelf can hardly blame the supermarket.
Technology changes by the week. Looking back, it seems as if we scratched out our stories with quill pens when I worked at the Star in the 1960s. But the basic tenet of American journalism remains the same: news stories are on news pages; opinion is labeled as such.
Pitts is a Pulitzer-winning, nationally syndicated columnist and a favorite at the Tucson Festival of Books. If everyone agreed with everything he wrote, he’d be out of work. If he is too “liberal,” whatever that means, there is are plenty of right-wing extremes elsewhere.
Why would intelligent voters not want to read viewpoints that differ from their own? Have we become so tribalized, narrow-minded and — OK, there’s no other word — ignorant that we refuse to compute anything that does comfort our own prejudices?
There is much to criticize about “the media,” but a general condemnation — “journalism is dead” — is preposterous, particularly at a time when journalists themselves are dying, killed while getting close to actual nonalternative truth.
We lost at least 134 colleagues in Syria over recent years, not counting those injured or held as hostages in stinking cells. Happily, the death toll dropped to “only” two dozen in 2019 — 10 of them just south of our border in Mexico.
That is the extreme. But it illustrates the fundamental crisis that news organizations face today.
In earlier days, beyond the three TV networks and radio, there were only newspapers. Readers subscribed, and advertisers bought space. Publishers paid skilled reporters a living wage, covered their expenses and still turned a decent profit.
Now, with so much “content” on TV and online, too many people think news should come for free. And that is often what it’s worth. It’s easy enough to make a car’s gas gauge read full. Use a garden hose. But then try going somewhere.
Foundations, public funds and private grants provide excellent work at no cost. But it takes commitment to separate that from partisan slant, outright propaganda or inept reporting that inadvertently gets things wrong. Mostly, it delves deeply into specific subjects.
Newspapers remain the basis for a grasp on local and global realities, that essential big picture, which gives a democratic society the common understanding of nonalternative facts. Good government is all but impossible without that.
Plenty of papers hang on. Too often, corporate owners starve them of resources to increase profits. A few wealthy owners buy them for personal or political reasons. But good ones survive by their credibility, supported by readers who trust them.
When a mysterious coronavirus suddenly hit America hard, it was baffling to see fist fights among people desperate for toilet paper. What matters in a crisis is newsprint, with reliable words and informed comment to help a society survive.
Mort Rosenblum is a reporter and author who divides his time between Arizona and France and runs www.mortreport.org.
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