Brian Fuller goes off on the death of media today because of declining advertising. He is wondering if there is any hope for a free press. My partner in Austin, Joe Basques, asked the question to me today, what happens to democracy in America when we no longer have a vibrant media?
Joe and Brian are rightly concerned because a vibrant objective media is import to the health of a democracy. But from my perspective, we haven't had a vibrant objective media for 20 years. Maybe longer.
I got into the journalism business before Watergate. Just before. By the time I graduated, every young person n the country wanted to be an investigative journalist like Woodward and Bernstein. There were conspiracies everywhere, they thought, and they were going to root them out. Those fledgling journalists are today's silverbacks... and Brian is one of them. All of them seeing the media as the anointed savior of the republic.
And we have an entire generation or two that have been brought up on the paranoia of the 60s and 70s. The problem is the generation that comes after those two is sick and tired of it and they want to move on. That's why we have Obama as president and not an old white woman or man (think of this, if Obama remains president for two terms, Hilary will be three years younger than John McCain is right now and he was considered too old to be president by many).
What's my point? Media is supposed to be a public trust, not a soap box. We are supposed to provide the information that people REALLY want and need, not the stuff we THINK they need. We need to look at what information we are cranking out and if that helps those people make their daily decisions. Journalists need to start becoming part of the people once again and stop promoting their own agendas.
Brian has a really good way of looking at this that he calls "vendor as publisher." But vendors are going to find that being a real journalist is not easy. If their stuff is to be acceptable to the market, they are going to have to make a real effort at objectivity. They may even have to admit that their stuff may not be as good as the competition in many areas. And they are going to have to learn to tell their market what it wants to hear, before the market is willing to listen to what they have to say.
And before I signoff for real for a week or so, I want to give you some historic perspective. Media health follows the economy. When the economy booms, media proliferates and even finds new mediums. In the technology runup that began with personal computers, the internet and the dotcom boom, There were new publications bein born and turning profits weekly.
But everyone forgets that when the economy is inching along, we see major consolidation of media. At one time, three families controlled ALL of media in the United States. At one time, there were only three television networks. Well, now that we're in a slump, guess what. Most of the print media in the US is controlled by four companies: Hearst, News Corp, Tribune Corporation and MediaNews. That's the way it has to be for media to survive. It's a cycle folks. We just have to adapt to it.