Fall of the Fourth Estate

What has become of journalistic integrity in this country?

There was a time when I couldn’t start my day without absorbing as much news as I possibly could. This was predominantly during my Angry BloggerTM days, although I continued to be a voracious news hound during that lull in between those blogging days and now.

I still read and listen to a great deal of news, but not with the same insatiable need. Truth is, I think that my distrust of media outlets has outpaced my desire to be in the know regarding transpiring newsworthy events. I hate that this is the case. I hate feeling uninformed. But I hate the feeling of being manipulated even more.

The distrust began a while ago, although I definitely think it came to a clanging, crashing crescendo during the 2008 presidential campaign. I continue to believe that the coverage of this campaign was offensively manipulative on many fronts, abandoning real news for editorialized irrelevance and pandering to the most inconsequential coverage because it was more entertaining.

Call me curmudgeonly (and I’m sure many of you will), but I don’t want to be entertained by my news. I want to be informed. But when you find that you have to go to personal blogs or Jon Stewart to locate the facts that are missing from mainstream media outlets, it becomes glaringly obvious that there’s something failing within the machine that might become irreparable if it’s not addressed soon.

But when did the machine first begin to fail?

I think the diagnosis is many-layered, but I believe that the problems first began to arise with the arrival of 24-hour news coverage channels like CNN and later MSNBC and Fox News. Here was an idea that had the potential to provide viewers with unencumbered access to the most up-to-date and thorough coverage of news as it happened. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfettered access to the truth!

What we got, instead, was a gradual blurring of the lines between honest news coverage and editorializing that has reached insulting levels. Don’t believe me? Turn on any of these round-the-clock news channels and see what’s playing. More than likely what you’re going to find is opinion rather than news. Even when actual journalists are present on some of these shows’ panels, they’re providing their opinions on matters on which they report for other outlets.

It’s reached a point at which we’re not even allowed to come to our own opinions. Prime recent example: News coverage of a local crime that occurred last week started with the news anchor sitting next to a graphic that stated, “Disgusting Act.”

True, the incident in question was quite disgusting. But I don’t need you to tell me that. I need you to provide me with the facts of the crime and let me make up my own mind. Period. That is, after all, your job. To report the news.

However, opinion has somehow cloaked itself convincingly enough that it now mingles with the sheep, whispering its distracting song into the minds of anyone willing to listen. Why? Because it’s being sung by a “news” outlet? Printed in a reputable newspaper?

Do such things even exist anymore? Perhaps, but I believe they are slowly being eradicated by the instant gratification demands of the online generation, combined with features like “Post a Comment,” which more often than not are nothing more than thinly veiled cesspools of racism, ignorance, and intolerance. With the “anonymous” function, most comment sections on news sites inevitably tend to devolve into the modern day equivalent of wearing a hood at a cross burning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s a White face beneath the hood anymore. Anyone can be hateful! It’s as easy as the click of a mouse button!

It’s exhausting and frustrating and overwhelming all at once. And it’s not going to get any better. True, I know several journalists who strive to remain true to that mythological creature known as “journalistic integrity.” But they, too, seem slated for the inevitable march to extinction, replaced by sensationalism and emotionalism disguised as news.

I’m not naive enough to believe that journalists must be complete blank slates. I know that journalists have their own opinions, their own beliefs, follow their own convictions, and make up their own minds. But they shouldn’t be trying to make up my mind or anyone else’s. Report the news. Nothing more. Nothing less. And if you find that too difficult a beat to walk, perhaps you should consider switching to another line of work. I hear Sarah Palin is putting together her own discussion panel on Fox News…