Addressing what ails the press
Here's a post I've had sitting around in draft form for more than a week, waiting for a moment to write it up. It's about the problems that have been assailing the newspaper business. I spotted this intruiging piece in The New York Review of Books ("The Press: The Enemy Within" by Michael Massing). It's a lengthy piece, and I only have time to give the briefest plug for it, but it does a good job of summing up many of the points I've raised in this blog about the inadequacies of the press in its coverage of many of the biggest stories of recent years - from the 2004 election to Iraq War to the Plame Affair to Hurricane Katrina. It includes some serious criticism of the country's most prestigious news organizations, from journalists who worked on the inside, such as Nancy Cleeland and Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times, and Tom Fenton at CBS (who has also written his own damning indictment of that network: Bad News).
Although Massing concedes that, since Katrina, "journalists have been asking more pointed questions at press conferences, attempting to investigate cronyism and corruption in the White House and Congress, and doing more to document the plight of people without jobs or a place to live," he wonders:
- Will such changes prove lasting? In a previous article, I described many of the external pressures besetting journalists today, including a hostile White House, aggressive conservative critics, and greedy corporate owners.  Here, I will concentrate on the press's internal problems - not on its many ethical and professional lapses, which have been extensively discussed elsewhere, but rather on the structural problems that keep the press from fulfilling its responsibilities to serve as a witness to injustice and a watchdog over the powerful. To some extent, these problems consist of professional practices and proclivities that inhibit reporting - a reliance on "access," an excessive striving for "balance," an uncritical fascination with celebrities. Equally important is the increasing isolation of much of the profession from disadvantaged Americans and the difficulties they face. Finally, and most significantly, there's the political climate in which journalists work. Today's political pressures too often breed in journalists a tendency toward self-censorship, toward shying away from the pursuit of truths that might prove unpopular, whether with official authorities or the public.
This is a busy time for everyone in higher education. But I'd definitely recommend this article to those of you interested in trying to understand why the press is at an all-time low in terms of public trust and confidence.