A lot of us love the news, and the old brands – the big inky papers, confident voices and handsome TV faces – that deliver it. But that can't keep us from acknowledging that many of our favourite media outlets aren't doing their job. From the war in Iraq to the political battles over climate change, we the readers have not been well served by the press. Worse, many news organisations have been co-opted or corrupted by the bad governments and corporations they should be working to reform.
Journalism has to be fearless, and journalists have to be abrasive: they should investigate authority and speak unpopular truths. That's not to sell papers or drive traffic, but because it's what the profession demands. In the face of misinformation, indifference and relativism, journalists must be impartial, but they can't be neutral. We need a strong, independent press – it's how you build a strong, independent citizenry. (That's one of the reasons Avaaz has launched the Daily Briefing.)
Dead wood media suck
British reporter Laurie Penny hits the nail on the head (thanks, BoingBoing) in this essay pondering the terrible decline of the profession she got into "to tell truths and right wrongs and occasionally get into parties I wouldn’t normally be cool enough to go to":
Right now though, with a few exceptions, professional journalism is rarely seen as an exercise in holding power to account. Justly or unjustly, the media, especially but not exclusively the mainstream, corporate-controlled press, has come to be seen as the enemy of the voiceless rather than their champion. Justly or unjustly, few people believe what they read in the papers or watch on the news anymore, because belief has long ceased to be quite as important as complicity when it comes to the Daily Mail, the Daily Post or News International. On the streets of Athens and Madrid as well as during the London riots of August 2011, journalists have been threatened and attacked by desperate young people making havoc in the streets. Why? Not because these young people don’t want to be seen, but because they don’t want to be seen through the half-closed eyes of privilege.
Journalists are losing any case we ever had for special pleading. For the younger generation of digital natives, there is no particular reason to be deferential towards anyone who happens to be at a protest with a phone that can get the internet and an audience of thousands: it’ll be you and a hundred others, and unless the police have given you special privileges to write precisely what they want and nothing else, your press pass is less and less likely to keep you safe from arrest. As more and more ordinary men, women and children without degrees in journalism acquire the skills and technology to broadcast text and video, the media has become another cultural territory which is gradually being re-occupied. Those on the ground do not have to wait for the BBC and MSNBC to turn up with cameras: they make the news and the reporters follow. They have grown up in a world of branding and they know how to create a craze and set the agenda. They occupy the media. And the media is starting to worry.