Posted by: Nathan Dinsdale | October 24, 2011

Living in a “scoundrel’s paradise”

McChesney makes a strong argument regarding the modern dysfunctions of American news media. Of particular interest is his analysis of the three “biases” that have degraded “professional journalism.” Namely, reliance on establishment sources, lack of contextualization and the commercialization of the industry. What his analysis suggests, but doesn’t quite fully capture, is how those issues intersect and routinely ensnare on-the-ground journalists.

Speaking from a print perspective, I would say that the “commercialization” of journalism is the driving force behind the other purported biases (reliance on “official” sources and lack of context). But not entirely in the way that McChesney frames the debate. The economic realities of print journalism have created an overworked, underpaid and perpetually maligned profession of idealistic masochists. The vast majority of print journalists certainly don’t do what they do for money. Creative aspirations and idealism, naive or not, play a fundamental role. Still, cold, hard economics often undercut those ideals.

What relatively few positions remain for print journalists have mostly been converted into Mission Impossible job descriptions. The standard writer/reporter isn’t just a writer/reporter anymore. They’re also a blogger, photographer, videographer, podcast host and social media specialist. All under the relentless deadline glare of the 24/7 news cycle.

There is still plenty of “real” journalism to be found. But, without the time, capacity or culture for due diligence, it’s inevitable that context can be lost and primary sources relied upon far too heavily. Publicists, pundits and establishment sources step into that breach, creating McChesney’s “scoundrel’s paradise.”

Discussion questions
-Has the reemergence of partisan media in recent years enhanced or diminished the role of journalism to foster a truly democratic society?
-With a wide variety of media viewpoints more accessible than ever before, how much responsibility should be placed on individual media consumers for discerning news media content?
-Do you think technology and our “convergence culture” have made media consumers more active or passive in discerning content?

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