March 02, 2005

Laurie Garrett of 'Newsday' Rips Greed in Exit Memo -- Media Cheerleading on Health News

Laurie Garrett of 'Newsday' Rips Tribune Co. 'Greed' in Exit Memo

In Canada most of Mainstream Media are in bed with the government so it's hard for them to know what truth and objectivity are.

Laurie Garrett of 'Newsday' Rips Tribune Co. 'Greed' in Exit Memo By Editor & Publisher Staff, March 01, 2005

This comes from a prize-winning Newsday reporter; it is worth paying attention to what she has to say.

When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way. ...

”Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of 'snappy news', sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors.

”This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness.” [. . . . ]

Would people flock in droves to news media that offered investigative news reporting, as opposed to press releases? I would like to think so; it is worth the attempt. The problem is not entirely the fault of journalists. Most of us contribute to this by accepting the status quo. We must be prepared to pay for excellence -- and much of it is found in unusual or relatively new places, not mainstream media.

Might I suggest that it may become even harder for excellent journalists to make a living because the whole culture has been trained to want to be entertained, to have everything handed to them pre-digested, requiring little effort on their part, so they may move on to the entertainment. From earliest years, people are brought up on a general appeal to the lowest common denominator--by whatever names it passes--but low-end, tacky, cheap thrills. . . . and all the words that you might insert here might get the idea across. The prevalence of the words fun and success are indicative, usually standing for little of lasting value. If I hear or read another mainstream media outlet telling me what some film star or starlet thinks in the political realm, as though I should give a whit . . . well, chunder is one word for it. Nor do I care to know whatever prurient nuance the Michael Jackson trial reveals. Camilla and Charles? Frankly, among them be it. We don't exactly travel in the same circles.

What happened to the very old-fashioned expectation that an education and the instruments of education (reading material, media, institutions, the web etc.) would lift the mind above what is its natural bent -- perhaps to soar in an excess of exposure to the best? It is up to all of us who want to change this situation to ensure that educational institutions become seats of excellence, that public events, news, music, airwaves--all the embarrassment of riches we have in sources of information and entertainment--fulfil the highest calibre of our responsibilities to each generation, not be allowed to reinforce our basest desires, urges, knowledge, but to lift all by raising the quality of all offerings? It is we who must encourage all outlets offering the capacity for appreciation of the nuanced, the eomplex, the hard-won knowledge and understanding gained through personal effort. If we support the worst, the worst is what we will continue to get. It is us who must get across the idea that devotion to making money is such an emphemeral pleasure compared to pursuit of truth.

I know -- much too old fashioned. Still, I think we as citizens have a duty to try to change this. Good journalists are already drawing readers by virtue of the quality of their output. Advertisers offering something worthwhile might start searching for them. Nothing much will improve until we remove the government influence from all media/news/enterainment offering "access" with strings, as paymaster and devil with which the media must make deals in order to survive. Media should admit their biases; everyone has a bias. It would be a good beginning. As for overweaning profits? Get the government out of this and several other areas of our lives and let us choose our own poisons. Let journalists do the job they are often prevented from doing by the exigencies of the marketplace. Once they are free to explore, to do the digging, I suspect people will pay for the results.

A little dose of freedom would work wonders. Perhaps then intellectual and high culture--as used to describe a finely honed sensibility and a desire for excellence--would not be pejorative terms.

Beyond Cures, Breakthroughs, and News Releases: Ideas for Covering Health & Medicine

Journalists who only report on medical breakthroughs or on the latest news releases from medical journals are not reflecting an accurate picture of the current health care system.

There is too much cheerleading in health and medical news. For years, journalists were cheerleaders for the Cox-2 inhibitor drugs such as Vioxx, calling them "super-aspirins" in headlines in the New York Daily News, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Boston Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. Indeed, such hype is now being severely throttled back in recognition of the harm these drugs can cause. The hype preceded the evidence.

[. . . . ] Some television journalists became cheerleaders for the government's spin on . . . . they ran a government-produced video news release

There is good advice here for the news media and for the rest of us, the great puzzled about what is safe -- and, given the evident concern in our Canada 2005 budget about a coming flu pandemic--or is it another plague--check this article. Don't miss the last two paragraphs.


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