In a segment on Last Week Tonight that has now been viewed millions of times, John Oliver turned his attention to changes in the news industry. He highlighted the pressures facing journalists who keep elected officials and institutions honest and imagined a future in which investigations like the one dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight would be impossible. Here, four writers share their views on the future of the media.
Richard Prince: âThe framers of the US constitution recognized the vital role of the pressâ
I just finished writing that race is the biggest story in the United States, and about the role of journalists of color in helping the nation bridge our divides.
I referenced the 1968 report of the Kerner Commission on the racial uprisings of the 1960s, which said, âit is the responsibility of the news media to tell the story of race relations in America, and with notable exceptions, the media have not yet turned to the task with the wisdom, sensitivity and expertise it demands.â
The wide gap between whites and people of color on such questions as the extent of racial discrimination demonstrates that those words are still applicable â journalists still have much vital work ahead of them.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post just ran a front-page story Thursday headlined, âEven under oath, Trump struggled with the truth,â outlining the many times the Republican candidate for president has willfully lied. The previous day another Post front-page story reported, âEmail batch provides additional evidence that Clinton Foundation donors got access at State Department.â
Where would we be without such journalism? There are few citizen duties greater than electing our national leader, and itâs crucial that we be informed while doing so.
The framers of our US constitution recognized the vital role of the press in a democracy when they formulated the first amendment.
Most of us have heard of Thomas Jeffersonâs statement, âwere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.â
However, letâs also note his next line: âBut I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.â
Richard Prince writes the journalism diversity blog journal-isms
AW Richard Sipe: âI was one of the sources for the Boston Globeâs investigation on sexual abuseâ
If you have watched the award-winning movie Spotlight, you will have heard about me â I was one of the sources for the Boston Globeâs investigation on sexual abuse in the church. My colleagues and I spent 25 years working to expose this crisis in the United States. We wrote articles, gave talks, helped organize national conferences for victims and survivors of clergy assaults, church denial and coverups. But it took the media to make sure we were heard.
There were modest accounts in local papers that paved the way for documentation of a broad-based scandal. It was not easy. Institutional denial and power resisted at every turn. Many local journalists, most cautiously and with editorsâ deference to the power of church opposition, followed leads about abuse victims and priest predators. Church sources derided and tried to discredit whistleblowers.
Survivors movements from the 1980s onward made a ruckus with the distribution of flyers, often at church parking lots where abusing priests had served. Legal cases began to make headlines when settlements for clergy violations began to hit the millions.
Coverage remained scatted and disjointed until the Boston Globeâs Spotlight Team pulled together the threads around one case that epitomized the pattern and practice of the nationwide and worldwide scandal in the Catholic church. The power of that investigative reporting simply cannot be overstated.
AW Richard Sipe is an expert on sexual behaviors of Roman Catholic clergy
Lucia Graves: âThereâs no reliable formula for making journalism profitableâ
Freedom isnât free and â youâre not going to like this America; nobody does â thatâs true for the press too.
John Oliverâs viral newspaper rant struck a nerve for the same reason things often do: because itâs correct. If you want to read good journalism in this country, somebodyâs going to have to start paying for it. And it should probably be you.
This is confusing to a lot of us because we always assumed it was our God-given right to never have to pay for anything on the internet. But now journalismâs primary home is the internet, and nobody knows how to replace even a tiny fraction of the profits the industry has lost from diminishing print ads.
Thereâs no reliable formula for making profitable journalism profitable that Iâm aware of â every place Iâve ever worked has lost money much, if not all of the time. Itâs just a question of how much they were willing to lose.
The most promising model right now seems to be to subsist on the fumes of venture capitalism or have a millionaire to billionaire-range benefactor. The latterâs an imperfect model for all the reasons Oliver and common sense suggest. Itâs even problematic for reasons not suggested!
The truth is, weâre going to have to pay for our journalism one way or another, and in many ways, we already are.
We pay for it every time, say, the Las Vegas Review-Journal runs a toothless story on owner Sheldon Adelson or doesnât cover something critical of one of his friends. We pay for it in shrinking newsrooms around the country. And we pay for it in vapid stories about raccoon-cat or pizza-rat or what-have-you.
And donât get too excited about that last one (I like reading about pizza rat too); we donât pay nearly enough with our clicks.
I donât have a plan make journalism a viable profession in the future, but there is a way in which you personally can make the media better. Thatâs important because most Americans donât like the media very much and havenât since, oh … right around Watergate.
If you want to like the media more, try remembering that the media is actually comprised of humans, most of them working extremely hard and with limited resources to get the story right. Also remember that those humans work in an industry that supports democracy (or is supposed to) but is not itself supported by democracy very well.
If you want good journalism and a press you admire, try making that more possible by getting a subscription to your local paper, or a national one, or any one at all.
Lucia Graves is a columnist for Guardian US
Doug Moe âI was called into the editorâs office and immediately terminatedâ
The question of what happens to communities when publications canât afford to pay journalists to write stories usually centers on the loss of hard news and investigative reporting, and probably rightly so. But newspapers, with their feature stories, have also served a function as a community voice.
For 18 years I wrote a near daily feature column for two newspapers in Madison, Wisconsin. That ended in June 2015 when I was called into the editorâs office and immediately terminated, along with a few other longtime colleagues. The newspaper never gave me a chance to say farewell to my readers. After 4,000 columns, they just âdisappearedâ me.
Since leaving, many readers reached out to me to say how much they miss the institutional knowledge of the city and its people that informed the stories that my colleagues and I wrote. I watched many talented colleagues walk out the door before I made that walk myself. To borrow a phrase, it was like watching a library burn down.
My columns were once collected in a book called Surrounded by Reality. If you know Madison, you get the reference. One reviewer noted: âHis daily features are able to connect the present to the past, effectively telling the ongoing tale of the city and its people.â
It was a privilege, and sad to realize those days may be disappearing.
Doug Moe is a columnist who writes on local issues in Madison, Wisconsin
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