July 28, 2006
By Bill Kraus
There is a plaque on the sidewalk of 41st Street in New York City that leads to the New York Public Library. The quote is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It reads: “Where the press is free and man is able to read all is well.”
The press is free here. Man is able to read. All is a long way from being well. So what happened?
Reporters have always been the bane of people in power, mostly politicians, but that’s normal in an arena where paranoia is the occupational disease. Reporters also have suffered a kind of Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect” relationship with the general public. This despite the fact that by not getting worse reporters have moved up on the respectability scale: CEOs are falling, accountants are in disrepute, even priests must be somewhere below them by now.
Readership of their stuff is down as newspaper circulation declines and newspapers turn increasingly to fluff to attract the audience of affluent, profligate buyers that their advertisers seek.
Actually, reporters are probably getting the widest audience ever, because television and radio outlets continue to rely on them for content. Want to be on CBS evening news? Get a story in the New York Times.
The plethora of bloggers who clog the Internet with their opinions (including, alas, this one) claim they have usurped the journalists’ function of making power accountable. What they don’t mention is that the facts they base their opinions on come from the same reporters who are supplying most of what is coming out of radio and TV newsrooms.
It isn’t good. It isn’t fair. And it isn’t right. And the worst of the undesirable side effects of the decline of newspapers and their readership and the reduction in the numbers of reporters doing what reporters do is that the information that is needed to make “all well” is increasingly being promulgated by (mostly political) marketers and image spinners and hired guns, packaged in 30-second sound bites.
You thought the Know Nothings went away sometime in the middle of the 19th century. They’re back.
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