If there is a recognized "Big Three" of industries impacted by the present Imperfect Economic Storm, then Banking, Real Estate and Automotive may need to 'move over' and make room for the Media. Smaller dimensionally, but no less critical in impact, its industry is truly in grave crisis, producing self-descriptive headlines each week with another sale, shortfall or closure. And its sudden demise could well deprive the nation of a hallowed profession upon which so much in our democracy has so long depended.
Economically, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, the Rocky Mountain News, even USA Today and many others were all unique cases, albeit with worrisomely similar underlying fissures. The long welcome revenue shower of campaign monies morphed almost immediately into recession, only then to lose even more to the Internet classifieds. Meanwhile, media consumption habits ruptured along generational lines as never before. Neither television, nor most radio could entirely escape similar destinies, largely incapable of creating their own models of effective resistance.
Our goal is not merely to review recent history, but rather to delve into some of the deeper implications. What voice does national security require in an age demanding ever more accountability and transparency? What free speech rights need assured protection in the increasingly salacious world of talk radio, pop fame and YouTube slander? Is privacy gone forever, another loser to the shallow Facebook ‘friend' collection? What logic is there if foreign reporting shrinks as globalization continues to expand? Do backstreet Mom-and-Pop bloggers deserve our respect and the authoritative mantle of ‘journalists'? And what of media objectivity? Does the press report on, or simply fall enraptured with, one candidate, while effectively dismissing the others as too old, too superficial, too unprepared, too blindly dogmatic?
Our speakers all labored through the best of times, and now some of the unexpected worst. One might not know every name, but you've read them all; subscribed to their media; invited them into your homes; formed opinions along with their own; eagerly awaited their next issue. They are the ones we grew up with; who helped form so many of our opinions. We will miss them while awaiting the verdict on the plethora of ‘replacements' who would attempt to fill the vacuum.
Living as we do in an era of instantaneous communication and information overload, it has become far easier for ‘journalists' to obtain information, while not necessarily easier to separate fact from opinion, public from private interests, influence from manipulation and ‘spin' from subtle corruption. Clearly we may increasingly need a nonpartisan, non-ideological and non-political guide. The generally accepted authority is still The Pew Research Center, with its ‘Project for Excellence in Journalism', its annual reports on the "State of the News Media."and Tom Rosenstiel as its chief architect.
Almost a weekly litany, and this time newspapers in both large markets and small, are going down for the virtual count. Staffs and salaries cut, labor contracts re-negotiated, ads appearing on front pages, and web-only publications increasing. Where will it end, or indeed will it end? The reasons are multiple, and few outlets seem immune. Will Jefferson's greatest fear (a government without newspapers so much worse than the reverse) prove alarmingly prophetic? Our two speakers represent local and national perspectives, large and small, present and future.
Conflicting issues for both media and the nation in an age of Terrorism. The public demands accountability and transparency, while government understandably requires confidentiality, and in many cases, secrecy, in the name of national security. Professor Peter Teachout, a specialist in Constitutional law and the First Amendment, tracks evolving free speech/press issues and challenges, while Lyle Denniston reflects on almost 50 years of Supreme Court reporting and the new challenges facing 21st century media.
As the world shrinks and “flattens,” print and broadcasting are retrenching their foreign reporting. Traditionally these outlets maintained bureaus in dozens of countries, but now they fly out of a handful of world capitals or depend entirely on news or broadcast services, many foreign owned and staffed. Increasingly reporting concentrates on crisis coverage, losing much perspective and depth. Our speakers are foreign correspondents with decades of experience in print and television reporting throughout the world.
For decades the nightly network news shows we grew up with and their celebrity anchors amounted to an American institution. Although networks still have sizable audiences, in recent years their dominance has been sapped by cable and Internet news sources. Their response has often been to cut back on coverage and produce “softer” news shows. Our panel consists of two former network correspondents, and a third who switched to radio and became a well-known reporter on Vermont Public Radio.
Clearly more cause than result, and certainly the big winner to date, we've already felt the generational difference, the impact on politics, the vast research capability, and these are but a few of today's surface factors. Will it consume all in its path; influence everything we do; or instead produce its own problems and unique new challenges? Zephyr Teachout is a recognized expert on broad aspects of its impact, and Matt Dunne comes to us with the global view from Google.
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Last Updated: 2/1/13