The death of the American press and the corresponding rise in corruption

As we’ve discussed here many times in the past, the loss of local papers around the United States is going to have negative repercussions that we cannot yet imagine. There will, without a doubt, be more government corruption, and corporate crime. A democracy, in order to survive and thrive, needs an active investigative press. And, unfortunately, while the other branches of government are funded in the United States by tax dollars, the press is not. It’s up to us, the people, to fund such activities. And, lately, we’ve been doing a piss poor job of it.

And, as much as I love blogs, I don’t think blogs are sufficient to the task of rooting out corruption and abuse. Bloggers not only lack resources – they lack the ability to strike fear into the hearts of elected officials. Take, for example, the case of EMU student Laura Dickinson, who was murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student in 2007. Does anyone really think that story would have been broken open by a blogger? I think it’s safe to say that, had that murder taken place today, there would be a good chance that President Fallon would still be in power at EMU, and that people would never know the extent to which University administrators had conspired to keep it quiet that a student had been murdered. And that’s just one isolated example.

At any rate, the FCC just put out a fascinating report on the current state of American media. If you get a chance, I’d suggest checking it out. And, if you’re not one to follow links, here’s a little introduction from our friends at Think Progress:

The Federal Communications Commission’s report titled “Information Needs of Communities” probably won’t generate as much buzz as a political sex scandal, but at least one of its findings should be a cause for concern among citizens. The study concludes that “we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting” which “manifests itself in invisible ways: stories not written, scandals not exposed, government waste not discovered, health dangers not identified in time, local elections involving candidates about whom we know little.”

The report indicates that the decline in local reporting is a result of “dislocations caused by seismic changes in media markets.” In other words, local newspapers’ subscriber bases are drying up because readers are migrating online. Despite the limited success of services such as AOL’s Patch, online media has not been able to fill in the gap created as local papers have downsized their reporting staffs and cut back on the quantity and frequency of their publications.

This raises the question of whether demand for local news was that strong in the first place. After all, if individuals actually valued local reporting when print newspapers were still thriving, then wouldn’t they press for online news sources to offer more of it now? And if nobody was reading local stories in print papers, then what difference does it make if they vanish? Still, the mere threat of press coverage often can be enough to keep state and local governments honest. Even if citizens weren’t actively seeking out information about city council meetings, state and local elections and public sector dealings with private business, there was the possibility that they would become aware of a scandal or boondoggle through a front-page headline or a lead report on the 6 o’clock news…

So, instead of an “accountability press” we, for the most part, at least at a local level, now have glorified bloggers, under tight deadlines to get fresh content up several times a day, posting press releases issued by corporations and public entities. It’s a recipe for disaster. And you’ve all been warned.

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  1. Newsieman
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Much has been made of how Craigslist contributed to the decline of newspapers by hijacking a major revenue source. I’d suggest it, more importantly, exposed something: many readers had long bought papers not for news, but to find jobs, used cars and Kroger coupons.

    People care enough about news to pay, but, for most, only for big, scandalous news. Day-to-day, there’s just not enough local news to warrant buying a paper (unless you really have to know what today’s specials are at the Wolverine, which is underrated btw).

    So, as you note, we (who still would like an informed citizenry) have a major problem. We want corruption exposed, but we don’t want to pay for the filler that funds investigation of corruption. And, as the FCC report says, more Americans read hyper-personal Facebook than all other media combined (scary, right?). And your blog seems to garner the most comments on debates on local issues.

    So, it’s not all bad news. People want to connect, they want to engage locally, they want corruption exposed, they just don’t want to pay for it.

    The solution is simple! But, I’ve gone on enough… I’ll let someone else take it from here…

  2. Elviscostello
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I contend that without local print newspapers, those entrenched local politicians have little to fear. I remember the old Ypsilanti Press, of which I was a Paperboy under Joe Matasich. He gave no favor to local government and, like them or not, his editorial pieces were great. The best thing we could have in our community is a “daily muckraker”

  3. Leslie's Eyes
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of lack of local news coverage, has anyone else noticed that Steve “Robots walk and wipe for me” Pierce seems to be gearing up for yet another run at local office? It would appear that, this time, he has his long scope trained firmly on Lois Richardson’s seat.

    You read it here first!

    You can thank me by buying a relevant Craigslist offering.

  4. dragon
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Is it any surprise that the Invisible Hand has finally created invisible ink?

  5. Edward
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Let’s start with television news and start pulling the broadcast licenses of the networks that don’t devote adequate resources. The public owns the airwaves, and the networks were given the right to use them only so long as they acted as good custodians. They long ago made it clear that they didn’t have any intention of providing real news, instead focusing on lowest common denominator material that would draw large audiences that they could in turn sell to advertisers. We need to hold them accountable.

  6. Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure investigative reporting ever did sell many local newspapers. My father read the paper every day, front to back, but he was part of the “silent majority” who seldom criticized anyone in power. He was much more likely to criticize journalists than government officials. So why did he read the newspaper every day and watch the TV news every evening? I suppose he just wanted to know what was going on. By adding to the financial support and the circulation numbers of investigative reporting — whether he meant to or not — he helped it do its job.

  7. Ted
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Not only doesn’t it pay to be in journalism anymore, you can be arrested for it. Here’ s footage of a member of the press being arrested in Wisconsin, while covering a protest at the Capital a few days ago.–og&feature=player_embedded

  8. Robert
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, we need to hold media accountable for going after a large audience. We should really hold any company accountable for going after more customers. It’s disgusting.

  9. Newsieman
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    You’re right Robert. This is America. No company should be held accountable for anything.

  10. Robert
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Exactly, Newsieman – the term “anything” being equal to “the fashioning a product to the greatest number of potential consumers.” The terms are interchangeable.

  11. Robert
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Meeting demand should be outlawed.

  12. Posted June 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink


    I think that filing document you linked to was from 2010. Steve, as I recall, had indicated his intention to run, but then, for whatever reason, dropped out of the race. Lois won her reelection bid.

  13. Leslie's Eyes
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Viva la power of citizen journalism!

  14. Posted June 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Yup… I liked your comment though. I’d forgotten about the butt-cleaning robot.

  15. TaterSalad
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Waste in our government. Pathetic!

  16. Posted June 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Yes, we waste VA dollars on you.

  17. dragon
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    ***LIVE PEEP SHOW***

    Right Now!!

    7 Candidates, One cup.


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  1. […] how might those opinions be reinforced by Ann Arbor media, and what can we do about it? [5/8/2011] The death of the American press and the corresponding rise in corruption [6/9/2011] Please Write to and Ask Them to Cover the Eller Race [8/5/2012] […]

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