A recent perusing of my local newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has left me lamenting the current state of the American press. Once the great bulwark against government oppression and abuse of the weak by the powerful, the news media in our nation has been ebbing in terms of its ability to perform a sacred public charge…being the muscle behind the First Amendment.
Many Americans, particularly those on the far right, hail the notion of a reduced news media. Granted, the ability of journalists to report dispassionately has been significantly compromised over the years, but this is more the combined result of ideology-driven journalism professors instructing and ratings-driven news directors and editors seeking the most outrageous and eye popping headlines to gain attention. Rather than allowing quality, high impact material to sell itself, the “quick fix” mentality has perverted this industry into a Machiavellian cacophony of conglomerate owned media outlets, all taking matching orders from a main office which is usually out of touch with everyday issues, but more than happy to cater to the fringe movements who scream like hungry eaglets.
There was a time when one could take provide in the unique look, feel, attitude and coverage of their newspaper, radio and television stations. It was regions signature. The San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, New York Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Atlanta Constitution had a unique feel. New York’a WCBS, Chicago’s WGN, and Atlanta’s WSB all had their distinct sound. Anyone winks.traveled the country knew that WCAU in Philadelphia covered crime, WFLA in Tampa has heavy on the environment, and KTLA In Los Angeles was the car chase channel. By and large, this doesn’t exist anymore.
A small group of corporate owners led by Gannett, Raycom, Comcast, and Cox have conquered the landscape in television. In radio, the “Four C’s” of Cumulus, Cox, Clear Channel and CBS rule the broadcast booth. While newspapers and print have dates better, consolidation has become a necessary evil to survive as stodgy publishers and editorial boards were slower than a turtle in a tar pit to embrace the internet. That landscape is being slowly conquered by Post-Newsweek, News Corp/Fox, Newhouse, Tribune Publishing and the new behemoth, Berkshire Hathaway.
The end result is slowly emerging. Less competition means more fluff pieces, more tabloid sensationalism, less real investigative reporting for fear of rifling advertiser and political feathers, and more focus on the advertising bottom line. Rather than drive readership with quality, engaging active debate and discussion, and creating a truly American journalism legacy, our birthright as a free people is being stripmined and turned into the term coined to describe areas saturated by chain restaurants and big box stores. This once-sacred territory is now in danger of being swallowed by the sands of time and the avarice and greed which permeates corporate boardrooms world wide.
The name of this newly conquered land: Generica, Journalism Division.