Sunday, September 21, 2008

What if the Messenger Commits Suicide

I was a journalism major in college and although I never actually went into journalism as a profession, I've been a news junkie ever since. I had my first newspaper subscription when I was in 5th grade (it was a class project) and rode my bike to deliver the local fish wrapper from ages 9 to 14 and I think I have permanent nerve damage in my nose and ears from riding my bike in the freezing cold - not to mention being bitten by dogs 5 times. Still, given such adversity, I was undaunted in my eagerness to consume the "news." But I've become disillusioned over the years with the press's coverage of anything having to do with anything conservative. Now, while I have not been a particularly big fan of the Bush Administration, I've been - well - flabbergasted (full disclosure: I've never actually used that word before) by the treatment of the press. For instance, has anyone noticed that our economy - which has just taken a huge turn for the worse - has, according the meme running through the LA Times (my local rag), been in the crapper for years?

But, given the current onslaught of press coverage detailing, among other things, the dubious character of Sarah Palin (who I happen to be a big fan of) what concerns me is that if McCain is elected we'll have at least four years of doom and gloom (and possibly 8). I can't see anything but despair in the press if there is another Republican president and such an overwhelming onslaught of negative reporting (in spite of whatever the reality might be) is only going to make the divisions in this country deeper and stronger. The Democrats blame the Republicans for partisan turmoil and vice-versa. But the problem is clearly (at least to me and a growing cohort of others) the press and the further problem is that more and more people are starting to distrust the press and the press (I'm really talking about the newspapers), is dying a slow death as they become less and less believable and less and less relevant in the lives of at least 50% of this country. But that's a big problem for this country. What happens if the press becomes a big red nosed clown with the only people paying attention to it are the people who are willing to believe whatever it is they're told as long as they already agree with it?

Of course there is a rapidly growing alternative in the blogosphere, but the blogosphere consistently relies on the main stream press, at least for inspiration. Also, television news relies heavily on the reporting of newspapers and news agencies, which by and large can devote more time, resources and space to a story (however dubious that story may be). What's going to happen to television news if the newspapers and news gathering services go down?

Clearly, given the polls regarding how the country views the press and their sliding (dare I say, plummeting) circulation rates, the press is in trouble but what astounds me is they don't seem to care in the least.

The press has been our messenger for years. They have rightly had an adversarial relationship with power but now they've become an ally of power and have moved from reporting to propaganda. Sure the country has problems, it's always had problems from the very founding of the republic and for the relatively recent past we've relied on the press to warn us when those problems have gotten out of hand. There is an old expression that says don't kill the messenger. I think the press has gotten by on this for a very long time. But what happens if the messenger commits suicide?