Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reaction to "Journalism’s State of Emergency" by Sean Condon from the Adbusters 2008 Big Ideas Edition #75

Sean Condon is an elitist according to John Vivian, the author of my Intro. to Mass Comm. Textbook. That just means he regards pluralism as a utopian ideal, and thinks that the group of educated or privileged group of journalists has social responsibilities to uphold. Not the pejorative connotation of the word today meaning something like the individual thinks they’re more important than other people and puts themselves before others. Understanding this word and its two connotations, one political context and the other a journalistic context are crucial to keeping Condon’s pontifications underfoot.

Condon is right in saying that the climax of American journalism was Watergate. At least, a climax in the large media networks which most Americans tune into. It was a success, something to be registered on the credentials of print journalism. However sometimes Condon draws broad strokes. “The media’s success quickly made it bloated and cocky and in the 1980s it began to act less like a public trust and more like a business – selling its independence to promote the views of its advertisers.” Broadly sweeping past integral elements in the development of the modern climate of journalism. Like many things, the idea that modern mass media became bloated and cocky is more complicated than it seems. So many other elements go into a trend in a constantly changing, highly competitive industry. Things like professors, textbooks, public opinion, advertisers, company consolidation, markets, politics, as well as the general reliability of the field go into telling how a field gets “bloated and cocky”.

Poignant arguments were made elsewhere in the article. The quote by Robert W. Chesney from Urbana-Champaign was important to Condon’s elitist points. “It’s a social and political crisis. In the United States, our whole constitution is founded on the idea that there will be a viable press system so people have the necessary information to govern their lives. Without the press system, it makes a whole mockery of the constitutional system because people in power will know things that the population won’t.” The press should help uphold and facilitate equality, honesty, and information. Not to control information or content or distribution but to foster conversation and dialogue, which is a key element of our democratic process. Those exchanges of ideas and viewpoints are crucial to the press’s role in a healthy democratic system.

It is true (but a bit discouraging) that if the press will continue to exist in the future that newspapers will need to be affordable. The New York Times released its entire database to the public for free online and newspapers across the country have taken a punch in the gut from websites like Craigslist that offer free or low-priced classifieds which illustrates the proliferation of information the internet has brought about. Indeed, it has been the greatest single invention in human communication since Gutenberg came up with the moveable type printing press and most of the media hasn’t been able to keep up very well.

Condon’s is correct that Mother Jones, Harper’s and NPR are all producing some of the most important work in American journalism today along with many others. The thing that makes them stand out are their elitist view of the media’s role in society reflected in the poignancy, urgency, accuracy, and relevance of their content that’s not distracted or controlled by people (or media conglomerates) that have agendas other than being a service of integrity and a watchdog to power.

This is that article.

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Hemingway's House

Hemingway's House
In Havana, Cuba.