10 million Luthers

10 million Luthers

: Jay Rosen — who’s never half-baked but who’s always eager for conversation — took his sweet time to formulate his responses to Deep Throat’s unveiling and to the announcement of a big-money effort to fix journalism education and he put them together in a post that examines the religion journalism has become and the conclave of cardinals that the Carnegie-Knight initiative is.

The commonly accepted tenets and practices of our religion are due for questioning and one would hope that journalists — so proud of being skeptics — would be the questioners and that journalism schools — where academics are so proud of questioning — would be the place for this to occur. But, of course, journalism and journalism education are institutions that attempt to preserve their religion. So Jay’s response to the big load of cash that landed in the collection plate last week is this:

Maybe what we need is not funding for a new church, but a breakaway church, or two, or three of them. (And what is Fox News Channel, but that?)

And what are bloggers but 10 million Luthers pounding on the door?

This is not to say that I reject the instititutions of journalism and I don’t think Jay rejects the institutions of journalism education or we wouldn’t both be men of the paper. But we do believe that the breakaways, the challengers, the heretics are good for these institutions, which should be questioning their ways to find betters ones.

Among the religious tenets that should be questioned, in Jay’s post: Did Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee bring down the emperor Nixon… or — to make a bad metaphor unbearable — did Mark Felt as Brutus bring down this Caesar, did agencies of government do the job more than institutions of journalism? And are we really so skeptical, we reporters, are do we too often report what the powerful want us to report? Is it right and necessary that journalists pay their dues working their way up the institutional ladder when others are walking around that ladder to do the same work? Are the products of journalism’s two holy sacraments — investigative reporting and good, old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting — what the public really wants or what journalists want?

Watergate has been treated by journalists as a consensus narrative, with an agreed-upon lesson for all Americans. The Fourth Estate model not only works, it can save us. The press shall know the truth and the truth shall check the powers that be, whether Democrat or Republican. Chasing stories, exposing corruption, giving voice to the downtrodden: that’s what we in journalism do, the myth says. We do it for the American people.

That’s what we want to believe in journalism, but is it true?

: MORE: Laura Washington writes in the Sun-Times that journalism’s mirror is cracked:

When the journalism profession looks in the mirror, it doesn’t like what it sees.

It sees a public turned off by the news — news of a never-ending succession of our journalistic crimes from plagiarism to fabrication; squabbles over anonymous sources; half-hearted mea culpas, and just-plain-old screw-ups. It sees a profession in crisis….

When readers and viewers look into the mirror that is our media, they don’t see themselves. A recent report by Columbia’s own Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the last 17 years, Americans have “come to see the press as less professional, less moral, more inaccurate, and less caring about the interests of the country.” Surveys taken between 1985 and 2002 reveal the proportion of Americans who view news organizations as “highly professional” declined from 72 percent to 49 percent. Those who considered news organizations “moral” fell from 54 percent to 39 percent. And news consumers who “thought the press got the facts straight” fell from 55 percent to 35 percent.

Joe Six-Pack doesn’t read the newspaper over his morning eggs and coffee anymore. The couch potatoes are furiously clicking off the nightly news. Readers and viewers see the media as an elitist bunch that neither live nor reflect their reality. The news honchos who have the most sway over writing and producing the news are mostly white men over 50….

Whoa about there. I was fine until she turned this into a quota thing… and that’s not just because I am a white man over 50 (not that there’s anything wrong with that, right?). She falls into newsroom-think: that diversity is about the colors of the people you see inside the newsroom. No, diversity is about the voices and views outside and whether they are heard. They are beginning to be heard online, because they can be, so why do they need to go inside the newsroom? No, it’s up to the newsroom to listen to what is happening outside its walls. [Thanks to Paladin in the comments for the link!]

  • DSmith

    “Watergate has been treated by journalists as a consensus narrative, with an agreed-upon lesson for all Americans. The Fourth Estate model not only works, it can save us. The press shall know the truth and the truth shall check the powers that be, whether Democrat or Republican. Chasing stories, exposing corruption, giving voice to the downtrodden: that’s what we in journalism do, the myth says. We do it for the American people.”
    Here’s one American news-reader who profoundly disagrees that the above is true. It is not. Taking a few points directly:
    The Fourth Estate model not only doesn’t work, it’s trying to kill us. We are engaged in (at least one) world war for our very survival, and the “Fourth Estate” is siding with the enemy.
    The press usually doesn’t know the truth; they can’t, they are too much of generalists to know the truth in any particular field. This makes them very easy to manipulate by the true experts. They are “useful fools”, and not just about politics.
    Chasing stories? Yeah, journalists do that, even stories that aren’t true. Witness Tailwind, Tet, Rathergate, etc., etc.
    Exposing corruption? You mean like CNN taking a payoff in access for covering-up Saddam’s atrocities? Or like the comprehensive and non-stop coverage the US media has given to Oil-For-Food and the Canadian corruption stories?
    But the worst, the one that absolutely gets my goat the most, is this notion that press is somehow doing this *for me*, that they are my “representative”.
    I can think of no more un-democratic an arrogance. News flash: my representatives are people *I vote for*. People like my Senators and Representatives, and, yes, even my President. Those whom we have elected in a democratic process. Those are my representatives. Journalists may perform many useful roles in society, but to consider themselves “representatives” is the height of condescension and arrogance.
    Who died and elected journalists our “representatives”? Is it an office-for-life? If not, how the heck do we throw the bums out?

  • paladin

    Laura Washington of the Chicago Sun-Times thinks the Carnegie-Knight initiative is “wrongheaded” because it advances elitism so that “when readers and viewers look into the mirror that is our media, they don’t see themselves…”http://www.suntimes.com/output/washington/cst-edt-laura06.html

  • The Fourth Estate model not only works, it can save us.

    Model or Paradigm?

    As a model, the Fourth Estate is pretty weak. Journalists have been hyping the institutional nature of the press-cum-news media for a hundred years or so; and references to it have crept into the annals of the courts and the elected government.

    But just as the institutional media has always hammered away at government to make it more transparent and accountable, the rise of the non-institutional media — blogs and such — is a response to the opacity of the institutional media. We can now see what’s happening inside government; now we want to see what’s happening inside the New York Times and CNN.

    “The Fourth Estate” works better as a paradigm, because it’s more inclusive. The institutions of media may come and go, but people on an individual level will always ask questions and tell what they know to anyone who will listen. We need to protect the people in this process down to the individual level, not the dinosaur institutions of the establishment media.

  • DSmith voices a question I’m always asking, whenever I hear the fourth estate nonsense: we never voted for them!
    When it comes to constitutionally-protected speech, we come closer to that ideal now with blogs and other outlets as alternatives. The idea that large, powerful, liberal-populated news organizations are not just guaranteed free speech, but entitled to it on a more elevated plane than the rest of us, setting themselves up as not just equal citizens, but an unelected and unaccountable branch of the government unto themselves… well, the chutzpah is dizzying.
    This was jarring when the whole Gannon thing erupted… scores of people making the claim that you can’t let somebody into the fourth estate who isn’t a “real” reporter. When free speech becomes the privilige of those who think only their own politics are correct, free speech is no longer a right, but a tool to use against enemies.
    Just as we now see with the NYT outing covert military charter flights. Absolutely nothing gained but putting soldiers into unnecessary danger. An unelected branch of government is working *against* the interests of the entire nation, and yet the left believes it is their freedom of speech that is abridged merely because Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are allowed to compete on the airwaves, and because we are not a totalitarian enough nation to punish the rest of us for criticizing the Dixie Chicks.

  • Gunther

    “The commonly accepted tenants and practices of our religion are due for questioning…”
    That would be “tenets and practices”. Yeah, we should question all of those no-longer relevant beliefs, like the one that says anyone posing as a journalist should be somewhat literate.

  • MadMan

    Maybe I’m alone in making this connection, but after watching a show on VH-1 this weekend about “Celebrities Cursing and Fighting and Getting pushed around by the ‘Stalker-ratzzi'” or something like that, I find myself grouping the memebers of the “news” media with the members of the “enetertainment” media and losing even more respect for “journalists” as a whole.
    And maybe its unfair that these two groups are linked together, but watch a local news broadcast and you see a segment from a reporter covering the situation in Iraq followed by a segment from a reporter covering the latest premier of a hollywood movie (and if we are really lucky, an actor will even slap a news producer for an even better story).
    ABC World News Tonight, The CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News may be fighting for an increasingly small audience along with their cable counterparts, and we may soon see one or more of these programs bite the dust.
    BUT, while they cut the number of news programs, Entertainment Tonight, alone on top for many years, has to now compete with eXtra, Access Hollywood, Inside Edition and of course the cable shows such as E True Hollywood Story, Behind the Music and other Celebriographies.
    Do the practices of these media journalists infuence our perception of other journalists? I know that “People” is not the NYTimes but if they had the chance for a good story do I think employees of the NYTimes would be willing to go as far if not farther than many employees of “People” in stalking, badgering and violating expectations of personal privacy? Hell yes.
    And the only justification would be in the importance of the story coming to light versus what may appear in People, but I think most times they’ll fall way short of any justification. And so in my eyes there is some influence especially as what we once thought of as news programs try to increase viewers by doing stories about hollywood and it actors.
    There is an ugly side to the media that feeds America’s hunger for celebrity news and scandal which does not the attention I think is deserved when discussing feelings about the actual “media” or “journalists” that most americans are familiar with. And while we may happily chow down on our feast, we may still not like what goes on in the sluaghterhouse or sausage factory that creates these tatsy treats.

  • Jeff, snap out of it. Rich, fifty-plus white guys .runs news divisions at networks or cable, or edits a big daily paper.
    It doesn’t mean all these guys can’t get with the program….but it definitely means they need to get out of the office, or be held up by the ankles and shaken until the coins fall out of their pockets.
    It’s hard to free fundamentalists from their beliefs. It will be hard to get fifty-years-plus white guys to believe that their vision of themselves as truth-seeking, diversity loving, generous dispensers of all things meaningful to look at the world from a different perspective.

  • Jenny:
    Oh, I agree about getting them out of the office and shaking them by the ankles. But I’m complaining that just because I’m a 50-year-old white guy, that doesn’t mean I’m evil. Old white-haired hounds, new tricks.

  • Jeff, one more thing: I like you better now that you’re a free agent. No reason really, except that it makes you seem more edgy.
    BTW, I’d love to hear a description sometime of your new worklife, I mean on a kind of how-it’s-different-from-driving-into-the-office.

  • Who died and elected journalists our “representatives”? Is it an office-for-life? If not, how the heck do we throw the bums out?
    What nonsense! Can a journalist enact a law? Can a journalist enforce a law? Can a journalist levy taxes? Can a journalist declare war?
    Newsflash, bub–you don’t have to listen to a single word of what a journalist says. You don’t have to watch their shows, read their papers, or flip through their magazines. And the best part about today’s fragmented media is that if you don’t like what one set of talking heads has to say you can always change the channel.
    Try it sometime.
    When I hear people like you speak so contemptuously about journalists and journalism, it sends a chill down my spine. Of course your bile is reserved for the media that doesn’t represent your opinion, as if yours is the true opinion, the Right opinion, the only sensible answer to the difficult questions facing us this century.
    Bullshit, I say. The journalists I need the most are the ones screaming into my face things I don’t want to hear. Because that’s the very last thing you’ll EVER hear from your elected “representative”. Don’t you get that? How many cycles of liars and crooks–Republicans and Democrats alike, mind you–do you have to go through before the lightbulb goes on in that noggin of yours?
    “Kicking the bums out”, indeed! Careful, Jeff, of the bedfellows you make in the course of nailing your 95 Theses to the gates of Old Media. The zealots you’re riding with these days won’t stop once they’ve torn down the Church of the MSM–they want to throw out all of the voices, not just the ones you’ve got a bone to pick with, although they’ll happily take all the free press you’ll give them until it’s time to silence you as well.
    Or don’t you remember how the real Reformation panned out?

  • DSmith

    Journalists can convict. No newspaper ever put a man in jail? Oh, come, read some US history. Journalists can destroy. No journalist ever attempted to destroy a person? To take one prominent example, how about Rathergate? If that had happened 10 years earlier, Rather would have gotten away with it. We all know, journalists can do a great deal to effect elections, elsewise why in the heck do politicians put up with them? So let’s not pretend journalists are powerless bystanders.
    As to declaring war, no journalists can’t do that, but they certainly can aid in war, or hinder. They can be participants. Especially when war is seen as it truly is: not a military contest, but a test of national wills. In that war, journalists are combatants, whether they wish it or no. That’s the reality. How about the press tell us *that* truth, that story? Silence.
    When I hear people that are journalists, that have audiences of millions, speak so contemptuously about my country and countrymen, it sends chills down my spine. When I hear them lie and slander our government and military it makes me wonder which side they’re on. I’m not talking about honestly bringing to light issues that must be discussed. I’m talking about outright lying and gleefully doing everything possible to drag America through the mud, deserved or not.
    Bullshit? Well, maybe so, but guess what? Maybe it isn’t just the journalists screaming things in your face you need to hear. Maybe you also need to be hearing from the many educated, intelligent ex-Liberal Americans like myself who see journalists, and the Left, selling all of Western civilization down the river. But of course, you could tune us all out, change the channel, keep peddling Journalism to whatever percentage of the American public that’s still listening.
    As to cycles of liar and crook politicians, no kidding. But at least we get a cycle. When are we going to get a cycle of journalists?
    And finally, I note this: in all your response, you made no response to the serious charges leveled against journalism. There’s a lot of that going around.

  • Linda Edwards

    Weapons of mass destruction, yellowcake uranium, mushroom clouds, direct contacts with Al-Qaeda, mobile weapons labs, viles of anthrax, aluminum tubes, “we’ll be welcomed as liberators”, “we’ll be out of Iraq by 2008 (Cheney)”, “we’re making great progress, we’ve got them on the run (Bush)” etc, etc, etc.
    All lies.
    And while Bushie and his friends were spewing their lies, where were the journalists?
    Licking Bush’s boots. Not questioning a thing. The Truth was irrelevant. And THAT’S the serious charge against journalism today.
    The most grotesque distortion is when the right accuses the media of being “liberal”. If the media was really liberal, we wouldn’t be mired down today in this disaster called Iraq. It would have been in the Country’s best interest if journalists had been doing their job and searching for the truth.
    So, since the right has the media so firmly in their back pocket, I have difficulty understanding what they’re bitching about now.
    When I hear people being so accepting about the deceptions and lies told by this corrupt adminsitration, I have to wonder who’s side they’re on. Certainly, they’re not working in the best interest of our Country or its Citizens. I fear they’re only working in the best interest of themselves.

  • There was a time when newspeople said they were voted on every day by the readers. Journalism became a republic, with some distance between the voters and the institution. Can journalists be voted out of office? It actually seems easier these days. Bloggers, meanwhile, are the rowdy town meeting of direct democracy. Except for the astroturfing. Can bloggers be voted out? Maybe just ignored.

  • DSmith

    I’ll give an example of media bias that doesn’t have anything to do with the war, or Bush, Or R vs D or Left vs Right, or any of that. Yet this bias is pervasive, mean-spirited, and either clueless when it comes to the facts, or deliberately tendentious.
    What am I talking about? Well, I work for the power company. Just about every single story about our company, or our industry, barring some hero-stories when 4 hurricanes come through, is strongly biased against us. In facts persented, in words chosen, in stories chosen, in blatant error, it’s all the story of The Evil Greedy Power Company. In reality, that’s baloney. But you’ll never see any member of the MSM say anything against that myth. That’s the MSM narrative, and they’re sticking to it.
    That’s just one example. I’ve had a diverse set of careers and worked in a lot of industries. I could give a similar example in every one.

  • Gunther

    Nice catch of the “typo” (i.e., tenants vs tenets). However, the next time you edit your posts, you might want to show your readers some consideration by indicating that you have actually made the change, instead of slipping it in without any mention of your original error. It just makes you look like a dick otherwise.

  • Gunther, cut Jeff some slack. He’s a busy man, he writes fast, he has no editor, and he has a life outside of blogs.
    BTW, I emailed him about that typo long before you posted about it; and I suspect a few others did as well. The reason I used email that I wasn’t looking for an ego stroke from calling out a simple mistake in the comments, and then expecting RECOGNITION for it! Jeez.
    Jeff ought to be able to correct typos without kowtowing to every little commenter who points and says “neener neener neener!” This is not an integrity issue, it’s merely a workmanship issue. Get your priorities straight.