The post below references the horrible cult massacre/suicide that occurred in Uganda back in 2000. After hitting the "publish" button, I decided to search for more information about cult leaders Joseph Kibwetere and Credonia Mwerinde, who may or may not be still alive. First stop, of course, was Wikipedia. The external links at the bottom of the entry
mention a "BBC report" and an "ABC report."
Without hesitation, I went for the BBC report.
It was an automatic reaction. Only afterward did I stop to ask myself: Why did I feel no curiosity to see what ABC has to say...?
The answer has nothing to do with any grand conspiracy theories about news management. I simply didn't think ABC would tell me anything that I didn't already know.
Our journalists have forgotten how to dig. Even in the year 2000, most American reporters did not consider the Uganda massacre to be news.
Consider a more recent example: How many Americans have heard that China has landed a rover on the moon
-- at a time when the United States no longer possesses the ability to send a human being into space?
For as long as I can remember -- and my memory is longer than most -- everyone has bitched about the ghastly state of American journalism. Yet the field was never truly bad
before. Not like this.
Sure, there were major events which left many Americans suspicious of covert government news manipulation. Obvious examples would be the assassinations of the 1960s, the Tonkin Gulf incident, the overestimation of Soviet military prowess in the 1970s, the anti-Sandinista propaganda of the Reagan years, and NBC's outrageous coverage of the shooting of Pope John-Paul II. On Cold War issues, at least half the news reportage filling our teevee screens was dubious or fraudulent.
But in all of those cases, one could discern political motives behind the "massaged" message. Nowadays, the problem goes way beyond the question of political bias. Our journalists can't muster up basic competence on pretty much any
Near as I can tell, the problem comes down to money.
In this country, news is -- or was -- subsidized by advertising, which was always a potential source of corruption. But now that the advertising dollars are drying up, the corruption has become much worse.
The BBC manages the neat trick of receiving taxpayer funding without functioning as an organ of government propaganda. Sure, the spooks have always inserted themselves into various levels of British journalism -- one of these days, I may tell you folks the story of Colin Wallace -- but MI5 does its trickery with a certain degree of subtlety. BBC World Service
Here in America, we have non-stop "news" on various cable stations, but what these outlets do isn't really journalism. Fox and MSNBC exist to make Americans of certain political persuasions feel good about themselves -- and hatred toward everyone else. Those two networks offer nonstop discussion of the talking points issued by the Republican and Democratic national committees; they do not search out truly new
news. When was the last time you heard of a reporter for one of those two venues initiating an FOIA search, or seeking out a little-known witness to an event that made history?
As for CNN -- hell, much of the time, CNN is a joke. CNN often serves up celebrity guff, human interest fluff, and endlessly repetitive coverage of this week's trial of the century. In short: Junk journalism.
And then there's the threat posed by the libertarian billionaires. Think of Jeff Bezos taking the Washington Post, the Koch brothers buying up newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and Peter Thiel (the guy who said that freedom and democracy are not compatible) buying into Facebook and venues that cover Silicon Valley. Of course, Rupert Murdoch got there ahead of everyone else. Since the news business isn't a great way to make money, the libertarian billionaire boy's club must have some other
reason for commandeering American journalism.
Some would count Pierre Omidyar as a member of that club. To be frank, I've heard conflicting reports. This article
pictures him as a man obsessed with news gathering (and a potential savior of the profession)...
But Pierre Omidyar has a strange obsession: Newsrooms. He reportedly hangs out in them, reportedly likes journalists (that's farther than I'm willing to go on some days). More importantly, he seems to genuinely care about the state of journalism in the 21st Century. He's very concerned about issues like the government's crackdown on whistleblowers and the people who report on whistleblowers, about unwarranted spying on American citizens, and related topics. A few years back, he started a local journalism website in his adopted home of Hawaii, and rather than getting turned off, he was hooked.
Roughly a week ago, Jay Rosen offered a more detailed look
at how Omidyar's First Look Media will operate. In theory, the operation will pay for itself through bifurcation. From a First Look press release:
First Look Media is made up of several entities, including a company established to develop new media technology and a separate nonprofit journalism organization. The journalism operation, which will be incorporated as a 501(c)(3), will enjoy editorial independence, and any profits eventually earned by the technology company are committed to support First Look’s mission of independent journalism. The name of First Look Media’s initial digital publication is yet to be announced.
To which Rosen adds:
Today’s news settles one of the questions I have been asked a lot: “Is NewCo going to be a business or a non-profit?” Answer: both. The news and editorial operation will be a non-profit. The technology company will be a business run for profit. If the tech company is successful it can help fund the journalism mission, along with other possible sources of revenue.
Arguably, television network news used to have a similar financial basis. CBS News didn't make money by itself; it was funded by the CBS television network. Walter Cronkite received a subsidy from the Beverly Hillbillies.
Rosen doesn't answer the important questions. Will First Look be yet another libertarian propaganda outlet? Many of my readers will automatically presume the worst. For my part, I'm trying
to be hopeful. Whatever Omidyar's up to, it can't possibly be worse than what the Kochs have in mind for the Los Angeles Times...