Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15: Sunshine Week - Time To Discuss How To Fix Journalism

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Sunshine Week is generally a time to make sure that public access to government stays open or opens more.

While that should still be done, this Sunshine Week is also a time to discuss what has become of journalism, and how to fix it.

The three-decade long deterioration reached its nadir recently with the tactics behind revelations of political shenanigans by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and partisan statements by former National Public Radio (officially NPR) Foundation head Ron Schiller. In both cases, Walker and Schiller's misdeeds were uncovered not by well-researched and upfront investigative journalists, but by partisan bloggers engaging in tactics unacceptable and unethical in conventional reporting.

By the way, the source of the stories is the reason I disagreed with criticism in the Walker case by the Society of Professional Journalists (Funny that SPJ didn't mention James O'Keefe's similar tactics in the Schiller case.). Are the Buffalo Beast or O'Keefe on the same level and do they have the same ethical standards as The Washington Post and the Associated Press?

No. And they don't pretend to.

Neither do the media companies currently setting up online content sweatshops (known more commonly as content providers) that have a "Heads I win/Tails you lose" economic mentality towards the people who write for them. In most cases, the writers literally earn small change.

Rather, the eyes of anyone concerned with ethical journalism should be fixed squarely on those media companies that profess to cover the world, or any given part of it, fairly and accurately - for everyone.

Those companies - by laying off thousands of capable, ethical journalists; by cutting back on their coverage of important government doings in favor of celebrity stories; by backing off the difficult news stories - created the vacuum currently filled by political hacks and stories-on-the-cheap websites.

There have been successful initiatives in serious journalism, but they are too few and far between for those who have lost jobs during the last few years and are still struggling to regain professional footing.

Recently, a lot of people have been saying that journalism is dead, or that the "yellow journalism" of today is the way it will be.

For the future of this country, it can't be. There have to be honest gatekeepers who publish the truth without fear or favor. They exist. It's time to find a way to bring them back.

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