Publishing Links of the Day: Journalism was failing before newspapers started to die off

I’m not a big fan of lobbying.  I think it’s pretty much buying influence and votes from our elected representatives.  And here is a rather interesting piece on lobbying that sheds a little bit different light on the matter. More than simply presenting lobbying as a pay for play scheme, this piece suggests that it runs deeper than that, with personal relationships between lobbyists and congressional staffers affecting the actual decision making.  Where this relates to journalism, however, is in the writer’s implications that the media have never delved deeply into the process of lobbying, presenting it as a strictly monetary relationship, quoting numbers but presenting no context.  Essentially, the press has dropped the ball and taken the simplest route.

And here’s another telling tale of the state of the press, constantly pointless polling. What value can their possibly be in something like this?  Yet the press and the government itself use these numbers to justify all sorts of things.  How do the people want you to pay for health care?  Tax the rich!  Absolutely.  Look at the numbers, people were good with the idea so long as everyone but themselves got stuck with a higher bill.  Sure, tax the rich, tax the drug companies, tax the insurance companies, tax the corporations, just so long as it’s not me.  Did they expect anything else when they asked the question?  The sad part is that health care reform supporters will be shouting these results from the halls of congress; “Look, see, the people want us to soak the rich to pay for this!”  What possible value can there be in out-of context questions of a random sampling of people who may or may not know anything at all about the specifics of the debate?  This kind of stuff is lazy and destructive.

It’s a popular trend today for those who are trying to “save” newspapers by spouting off about watchdog journalism and bemoaning the loss of actual invesitigative work that holds people in power responsible for their actions.  Without newspapers, we’re told, this essential service to democracy will wither and die, leaving us all the worse for it.  Well, excuse me if I find these arguements somewhat disingenuous and self-serving.  Newspapaers on the whole, have largely abdicated this role a long time ago, as profit margins based on advertising grew to garagntuan proportions.  In this day and age, very rarely do we see serious, legitimate investigative reporting, unless of course, we’re trying to sniff out the balloon boy hoax, or whether Brad Pitt has changed from boxers to briefs.

Accountability journalism of people in real power is all but dead in most quarters of the press, sadly, at a time when we need it most.  The death of newspapers will have no impact on this one way or the other.  They started to kill it off long ago, in favor of polling and easy-does-it stories that take the simplest route from point A to point B, without offending anyone who might affect the bottom line, of course.  I’ll believe that newspapers are worth saving when the press starts to turn that accountability on themselves.  When they start asking difficult questions and actually following up, when they stop asking loaded poll questions of random folks and presenting that as some sort of gospel truth, and, most of all, when they actually show a renewed desire to make the people in power uncomfortable again.  That’s the press we need right now.

You want to save newspapers?  Then do something useful again.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 5:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your blanket statements condemning lobbyists reflects what might be a lack of contact with, and understanding of, how the legislative process works in Washington (or maybe even in Annapolis.) Especially in the current Scream-the-Loudest, blog like-an-angry-lunatic environment, “good” lobbyists are valued in the noisy legislative environment.

    Every legislator is asked to make important decisions on complicated legislation, where the placement of a comma can have huge impact. A serious-minded legislator tries to sort out the pros and cons of a bill and the possible hidden implications and agendas. If you want to know, say, what the impact of a bill is on senior citizens, you call the AARP lobbyist. If you want to know the impact on minorities, you call the NAACP lobbyist. They will make their best arguments, and you will weigh the facts.
    The most effective lobbyists, at least in Washington, are those whose word, integrity, and credibility are “gold.” Purely self-serving verbiage has no credibility and is likely to put the lobbyist on the “do not return calls” list.

  2. To add, many “inside the Beltway” publications, such as Congress Daily, Congressional Quarterly and National Journal routinely cover lobbying and the “K Street” corridor (where most lobbying firms have offices.) It is incorrect to suggest that the media does not cover these relationships and who is lobbying whom on various issues. The Post and the NYT often cover such matters, too, usually after the “insider” publications have done so first.

    • I think the article I linked to was mostly referring to the mainstream press’ propensity for reporting on the dollar figures involved. I’ve seen several such articles on the current health care debate with comments like, “Drug companies spent such and such amount of money on lobbying this quarter,” without ever really explaining where that money goes or what kind of impact it has on the process. The implication is that lobbyists are buying influence. While I did make a blanket statement condemning lobbying, I’m sure there are perfectly legitimate people of conscious involved in the process. But I also am sure there are politicians who let lobbying groups, particularly ones who front large wads of cash in their general direction, set the tone of their agenda. It’s probably more of an indictment against the politicians themselves rather than the lobbyists, but, in my mind, there’s entirely too much money floating around the process and entirely too many instances where well-funded corporations and their lobbying arms get the debate skewed to their advantage, even being able to have their own language drafted into legislation. The money behind that definitely buys access that the average American simply doesn’t have.

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