Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Watchdog Needed

Too Little, Too Late

“In this brave new electronic world, you learn about a crisis when it has reached unmanageable proportions, such as happened in the subprime housing debacle at the roots of a recession that has slashed budgets at colleges and universities. And that is why educators everywhere should be concerned about the demise of global journalism, networks of trained reporters and editors generating content on the scene in national and international bureaus. We no longer live nor educate in that world. By elevating access over truth, ours has become a world that reacts via commentary rather than prevents in advance of calamity.”
—Michael Bugeja, director, Greenlee School of Journalism, Iowa State University,
Stewart, Assange and Journalism Education,Inside Higher Education, Jan. 18, 2011

Image: Yesterday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Why is this huge upheaval such a surprise? Where were the journalists? Or do Americans just not care about any culture or people but their own (if that)? Photo by Suhaib Salem / Reuters

Editorial Comment: Where IS that damn watchdog? Or Chicken Little, even?

PeezPix: PeezPix prints and notecards for sale.

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  1. That may be true, but it is certainly not new. "We" have missed every development from the fall of Russia to modern genocides to what happens after we declare victory in our splendid little wars.

    All of that predating the internet, but more possibly coinciding with the rise of 24/7 TV news and ubiquitous availability of TV news footage (there is always enough news budget available to get some cameras on scene when the fur flies).

    No, it seems to me that the major media has always only covered what Washington wants covered ("access over truth") - until such time as salacious video images are available, and then the impetus to monetize mayhem emerges as the media's priority.

    Media savvy activists are learning that the way to break Washington's grip on controlling what gets covered is to create a media spectacle that the media can't resist, along with a storyline they can't help themselves but to pimp.

  2. Excellent points, McMike. In the, er, "old days," intelligence agencies learned what was going on (if they did) from reading newspapers. Now what? Tweets from BFFs at the American University of Cairo?

  3. Ted

    Not really a rebuttal, but ...

    Apparently it’s not easy to be a journalist in Cairo right now. Actually I’ve been very pleasantly surprised how many NPR correspondents seem to be in Egypt. In the last two days I’ve heard on-air reports from Cory Flintoff, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, and Lourdes Garcia Navarro, and there may be more.

    But aside from Nelson, who’s been doing a series of reports, who was there prior to the demonstrations? Maybe no one.


  4. By elevating access over truth, ours has become a world that reacts via commentary rather than prevents in advance of calamity.”

    I recall, in particular, the manner in which the business press warned us in advance of the collapse of Enron, for example. To say nothing of the impending implosion of the U.S. economy in the "greatest recession since the Great Depression"

    Seems like pretty reactive coverage to me.

    Said Tom sarcastically.

  5. RE Tom: yes, Dean Baker in particular on his blog loves to point out every time the MSM quotes a pontificating economist by pointing out that their "expert" source failed to foresee the largest housing bubble in history....

    RE Ted: don't laugh, I am sure the FBI and DHS have upwards of 20,000 agents and contractors whose entire daily workload consists of (1) lurking around chat boards and (2) imputing various key phrases into Google.

  6. Press coverage overseas has been bad for at least 15 years. And prior to that it didn't exactly always predict events with regularity.

    To say that social media makes us less educated and more reactive is to ignore the fact that press coverage has been poor for a long time and, even when well-funded, not always that good.

    Time for newsrooms to try and start cracking the code of social media not just to advertise or titillate about upcoming stories -- like many TV newsrooms do today -- but to gather information as well, do their intelligence more cheaply from on the ground people at the site of theconflict. And more than that, become a source of objective information that can be relied on by people worldwide.

    That last sentence is the toughest of all. Broadcast News, the movie, came out in 1987 as I began my journalism career. And the foibles in that Hollywood pic are fairly mild compared to the banal actions of some newsrooms today.

    Gotta be relevant. Gotta be trusted. Little of what I get my hands on today does much of that.

  7. "Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin'..."

    -Bob Dylan prophesies the internet
    "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", 1963