If we baby boomers have seen the world turn better in countless ways, we also have seen it turn worse. And from the standpoint of all the information that bombards us today about how the world works, one of the most disheartening examples of “worse” is the state of the news media. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson, himself an award-winning former correspondent for CBS News, says the media today is not a pretty picture.
We are in an era when many of us are concerned about freedom of the press— the news media. Freedom of the press is not only legally protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is a pillar of life and society that has distinguished America from many other places in the world.
Yet the press has been in steady decline in recent years, driven not only by the current administration in the White House, as some might conclude, but largely by technology, and by business pressures to make more money. Underlying it all is a push that just didn’t exist until recent years: to monetize news to the max.
The decline is not new. Since 2004, a nationwide total of 1,810 newspapers have ceased publication, mostly because they could not find ways to earn profits against the Internet that delivers free news… even though much of it is untrue or twisted or “fake,” as we are learning every day. In the last 15 years, media closures and cutbacks have resulted in the loss of 22,000 jobs in journalism.
Today, there are “news deserts” across the country— communities that lack a local radio station or newspaper or any reliable source of information about civic life and culture. Sure wasn’t that way when we were growing up when we took for granted a variety of radio stations and papers in every corner of the country.
Look closely at what’s happened to America’s press, and you may reach the conclusion— as I have— that corporate demands for greater audience ratings, meaning greater advertising income, are major factors. And the trend points to the Right Wing in America.
Fox News smartly carved out a conservative news niche years ago, appealing to a graying and more conservative audience, at a time when the rest of the news media chose to lean liberal. Advertisers were quick to recognize the trend. It worked for Fox, now the #1 ranked cable news network, enjoying record profits and audience.
For much of the rest of mainstream news media, it appears like internal squabbling. For instance, in a move that falls squarely in “the pot calling the kettle…,” The New York Times has clamped down on its reporters appearing on MSNBC, the most liberal of the cable news channels. The Times expressed concerns over news “bias,” pointing to Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s top commentator, as an example. It’s not just Maddow’s show though. The Times— considered by many as a highly liberal paper— has become cautious of any cable news shows that appear as too partisan.
I should point out the obvious: that TV news needs to interview accomplished “print” journalists about the stories they research and report because TV news today largely lacks that depth of research, that level of gravitas and credibility.
Meanwhile, former CBS News anchorman Scott Pelley is on the interview circuit, lambasting his employer over a “hostile work environment” at the network four or five years ago. I haven’t seen even one interviewer ask him, Why now? Why is he out talking now about his cavalier complaints toward CBS News management back when he anchored the news a couple of years ago. Oh… wait… he’s hawking a new book he’s written that’s critical of the TV network. And, he claims he lost his job because he complained about the lack of civility in the newsroom. Coming from a guy who never broke through in the ratings, seems more like whining to me.
As the news media at large appears determined at self-destruction and finger-pointing, many stories are either only being mentioned superficially or not at all.
- Aviation officials from more than 30 countries met with the FAA not long ago in Fort Worth, Texas, to hear updated prospects for clearing the troubled Boeing 737 Max airliners. There was barely a mention in national news. International airlines seem skeptical that the Max is safe to fly. After two catastrophic crashes, I’d prefer not to ride in a 737 Max at all.
- Why did Midwest governors and mayors decline to use the words ”climate change” to describe historic floods and changes in the weather last month. Maybe climate change is not correct in the current populist political lexicon?
- Why isn’t America rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure— bridges, highways, aviation, education and so on? Sure, there’s a lot of talk in Washington and recent political battles, but those don’t explain how little action there’s actually been as the infrastructure itself continues to erode.
- What is the impact to our health by the increased burning of coal and release of methane into the air?
- And, then, there are the “gun” stories. Why must reporters and TV anchors continually ask “where” shooters got guns? When will a reporter go into a gun store and learn how easy it is to buy guns in many states? Heck, here in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., a gun store told me that anyone over age 18 with 2 random forms of identification, such as rent payment stub, can buy as many firearms as they desire!
I could go on but you get the picture.
Meanwhile, the press that we grew up appreciating and taking for granted is mostly gone… replaced at times by a morbid form of entertainment— pictures, video, and brief captions presented as sensationally as possible. While at the corporate offices, executives in charge of news operations who may or may not have any journalistic credentials argue and bicker over audience numbers, subscriptions, ratings, and whether Rachel Maddow might or might not be a proper place for their correspondents.
It’s not a formula for preserving the privileges of our First Amendment.
With the demonstrated evidence today of diminished news media in America, we must remember that history can repeat itself. In 1932, winning just 37 percent of the vote, Adolph Hitler gained power in Germany and launched an aggressive assault on radio and the press to silence opposing voices. We know what happened…