While the chattering classes on cable and the overpaid ‘anchors’ on network news suck up the air, they don’t often acknowledge the sources for that news about which they chatter so much. They are not reporters; they talk about what actual reporters have written. The television class get their news from print – mostly newspapers. In fact, mostly four or five newspapers – The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The LA Times, Chicago Trib – a few others. The congressional journals – like The Hill, Hotline, CQ – are essential to their schtick too, but as well reported as they are, their subject is congress and only congress.
Eric Alterman’s Think Again column last week looked – yet again – at the erosion of good professional investigative reporting, and examined – yet again – what if anything replaces it.
A few highly motivated individuals and organizations have attempted to fill the gap by founding new nonprofit media organizations. These include:
- The investigative team of reporters created by Propublica, which is funded by the civic-minded billionaires Herb and Marion Sandler and headed by Paul E. Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal
- The Center for Independent Media, headed by David Bennahum, a former writer at Wired
- The creation of a series of local-news-oriented partnerships with journalism schools like those at Columbia and the City University of New York, or CUNY, which employ faculty and students to cover stories that are no longer economically affordable for local newspapers
- Too many other small and still incipient ventures to mention
. . . With the core news function of for-profit media increasingly on life support in the United States, we need to find ways to preserve investigative journalism
. . .
He points to countries who invest in a vigorous press, something the United States doesn’t do, likely because Americans are hostile to the idea.
. . . But as University of Illinois professor and tireless crusader for media democracy Robert McChesney and John Nichols point out:
… we looked at the Economist magazine, and they rank every country in the world on how democratic it is and how open its governance is, how little corruption there is, how free people are, their civil liberties. … and the top six countries they ranked as the freest, most democratic countries were just about the six heaviest press-subsidizing nations in the world. The United States ranks well below them. Then we looked at Freedom House, a conservative group whose whole mission is to monitor government censorship and . . . it ranks every country in the world on how free the private press are in each of these countries every year. … Well you go down their list of the six freest private presses in the world and they’re pretty much in the six most heavy press-subsidizing nations that have those vibrant freest press systems. The United States is tied for 21st.
From earlier in the column:
Americans currently pay about $1.35 each in tax dollars to support noncommercial media, compared to about $25 in Canada, Australia, and Germany; nearly $60 in Japan; $80 in Britain; and more than $100 in Denmark and Finland. A similar fee in the United States would yield as much as $35 billion every year.
Thoughtful stuff – from someone who knows his stuff. (I am a serious fan.)