Newspapers are dying, and not a moment too soon. You can smell the decay even before they reach the garbage bin. For the same and other reasons the corporate television “news” monopolies are at a low rating of public trust and are being replaced by independent reporters.
I enjoyed a few of the last good years of newspapering as a reporter, cutting my teeth on the police beat, on the old Richmond News Leader , which of course no longer exists. In the early 60s we had original writing by James J. Kilpatrick and original cartoons by Jeff McNelly on the editorial page. People actually bought the paper for the editorials!
Local news was broadly and vigourously covered by tough experienced reporters, some of whom had not even gone to college but who really cared about getting the truth and were skeptical of power holders. Reporting was poorly paid and lacking in prestige, but it was fun.
The paper had been locally owned for two generations by the same family and was truly independent. But independent papers were already being amassed into corporate chains, the content of which is centrally generated boiler-plate, utterly predictable. There are hardly any local papers anymore. There is little in any that anybody should want to read. There are livelier, more immediate sources of the “news,” for sports and business. Who follows the comic strips any more? I can remember a time when lots of people got their daily chuckle out of them. Economically the papers only keep up circulation by chain store coupons and puff pieces on local minorities, athletes, and entertainment, and are giving them away free.
But there are more than economic forces responsible for the decline of newspapers (and the same is true of electronic media). When I moved on to a different field, new reporters and sub-editors were already disdaining the pursuit of facts in favour of “social relevance.” Reporters were now being hired who had been to prestige colleges and, as an old newsroom crony used to say, “educated beyond their intelligence.” They had an exaggerated sense of their importance as participants in public affairs rather than as honest neutral observers.
Now it is generally understood everywhere that “Media” students are the lowest IQs on campus, having outraced Education majors to the bottom some years back. They are all Social Justice Warriors now with dreams of glamourous anchorship. Years ago, when I became somewhat notorious as a “secessionist,” I dealt with quite a few reporters, active and some still students. There was not a single one who could recognise a real story if it knocked them down, and they were primed from the start to “get me” with predesigned negative labels. They quite were quite literally ignorant, lacking any knowledge relevant to reporting public affairs, had no impulse to look for truth or even what was new and interesting, and were cowardly conformists.
Nobody with any intelligence and experience of the real world has ever trusted the electronic news media, television being the best-designed instrument for lies ever invented by man. It is able to lie not only in words but in seemingly true pictures. But remember, television news has always been not an information enterprise, but an entertainment business designed to generate advertising revenue.
I remember over 50 years ago hearing the pompous Walter Cronkite (“the most trusted man in America”) declare several times that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by “right-wing extremists in Dallas.” There is nothing new about Fake News.
Fortunately public trust in the media has fallen since they have become part of the official opposition to President Trump. A Washington Post columnist that nobody ever heard of recently wrote that the media should de-platform the President. A CNN official chimed in that “broadcasting him live unfiltered has been a bad idea.” Another CNN executive wrote that they should never broadcast him live “because the President often uses the opportunity to deceive viewers by peddling misinformation and falsehoods.”
Who exactly installed the corporate media as an unelected branch of government, to stand between the people and elected officials and determine what the people should and should not know in this “democracy”? In fact, the media have for a long time governed the country by determining what should and should not be brought to public attention. So much for freedom of the press: freedom for nobody except for SJWs and their corporate masters, also unelected and practically unknown. Who are these people? What are their credentials for exercising such power?
Not what the Founding Fathers intended. Freedom meant that you are I can publish what we like in criticism on public affairs. They did not include the pornography and blasphemy that has been legalized by the Supreme Court, which at the same time has rendered laws against false defamation by the media inoperable. Reporting and publishing rightly have no sacred special status and authority, certainly not exceeding that of elected officials. The media have only the same right as you and I: to observe what is in public and comment on it. Anything else is astonishing presumptuousness that amounts to what the Founders would have understood as a treasonable usurpation of power.
Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews