One particularly poor excuse for a newspaper on the East Coast goes by the slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
Unfortunately, that paper and many others across the country pulled the shades down on America a long time ago.
Print media is lost at this point as the relationship between press, the government, and the people has changed so much over the past several years that I barely recognize the industry I’ve been a part of for more than two decades.
For a newspaper man who was schooled in the business by passionate professionals and raised in the newsroom to understand that the power of the pen is mighty but with great power comes great responsibility, it’s absolutely maddening.
Gone are the days of unbiased, hard-hitting news and investigative pieces based on fact. The front pages of dailies today are filled with stories oftentimes written by inexperienced reporters and edited by busy little beaver’s intent on making mountains out of mole hills while tackling the same issues from the same angle day after day.
Lazy regurgitation peddled as ground-breaking news is hardly award-winning journalism.
It’s like that old owl in the tree in the Tootsie Pop commercial is being asked the question, “How many different ways can we work a COVID-19 angle into a news story before the audience can’t stand it anymore?”
And editors are numbly responding, “Let’s find out.”
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is sinking the once mighty newspaper industry.
Today, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between a news stories and an editorial or opinion piece, as the former is filled with unattributable quotes or random generalizations inserted by an over-opinionated editor or reporter to sway public sentiment, and the latter is presented like straight news on the front page of national papers on a regular basis.
Headlines, which were once written to draw readers in, are now presented in such a way as to instantly inform and influence an audience before they even get to the lead — if they get that far.
Attention spans are at an all-time low and editors bent on creating news and not reporting on it know this and are quick to use slanted heads to pound their agenda into the fragile minds of browbeaten Americans tired of the barrage of bad news.
The way they see it, whether the headline is inaccurate or misleading isn’t a problem if the truth is somewhere to be found in the story — deep, deep down in the story.
And if a newspaper gets called out on their blatant abuse of power, they just bury a two-line correction somewhere on page nine two days later.
Unfortunately, many modern editors and reporters are the children of the blog generation, so truth, sources and attribution mean very little. Shock and awe have replaced the need for credible sources. Today’s newspaper men and women love to cut and paste and dramatize — banging home their doom and gloom to sell papers — while burying reality somewhere on the jump page.
Even the traditional heartbeat of newspapers — the feature story — is nearly dead and buried. Good news is boring so heartfelt stories from the streets of our neighborhoods — as told by those featured, in their words, and then crafted into stories by great writers — are few and far between.
What happened to the idea of gathering, reporting and spreading news to serve the public Interest?
That’s how I approached the job when I was a fresh young reporter, just out of college, and sent to cover my first beat area: The city councils in several small towns on the western edge of the Iron Range.
When I joined the staff of the Daily Tribune the powers that be at the time were making a push to fill our pages with more news from towns like Nashwauk, Keewatin, Taconite, Marble, Bovey and Coleraine.
Covering city business in those types of small cities was both uncomfortable and extremely satisfying at the same time because the mayors and councilors absolutely didn’t want me there, but the public deserved to know what was going on.
Up until that point, there was very little coverage of things going on in those locales. Some of the towns had a weekly paper or a newsletter but for the most part, business was conducted quietly from small rooms that served as council chambers, by elected officials who basically ran unopposed every four years because no one else wanted the job.
It was a little nerve-wracking walking into some of those council chambers for the first time. Everyone would stare at me before the meeting until eventually someone — usually a clerk — would walk over, lean in and whisper in my ear: “Who are you?”
The answer would cause councilors to shift uncomfortably in their seats or avoid eye contact and then the meeting would commence. Each time an item would come up someone deemed important, or I started scribbling in my reporter/s notebook, all eyes would again return to me.
It’s not that the councilors and mayors of those small towns were up to no good. In fact, they were all basically pretty nice people, some of whom I got to know well.
But at the end of the day, regardless of our relationship, everyone in the room knew what their roles were: I was the watchdog sent there to report on their activities in a fair and balanced way and they were there to represent the will of their constituents in a way that best served the people who put them in office, not themselves.
And never did the two worlds collide.