News Media
Congressional caucus looks for way to save dying print media
By Wayne Madsen
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 30, 2009, 00:22

On June 25, the Caucus on Freedom of the Press held a forum on the state of journalism in the United States in the Congressional Visitors Center in Washington, DC. The forum was organized by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), two of the founding members of the caucus.

A panel of three journalists discussed a number of the problems facing journalism. The Washington Post�s Bob Woodward, who was slated to appear, was not able to attend.

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Tom Rosenstiehl cited three points about the currently changing news media. The first is that since crooked politicians, fraudsters, and other individuals worthy of news investigations are doing their jobs full-time, there is also a need for journalists to do their jobs full-time in covering such targets of investigative journalism.

Rosenstiehl�s second point was the need for independent journalism. He stated that people who are well financed and have vested business interests would like to ensure that news on their activities, especially at the state level, comport to those special business interests.

Third, Rosenstiehl said that the ethics of the press must be maintained with a focus on accuracy and timely dissemination of news for public discussion. He stressed that a difference must be maintained between journalists and activists and noted that while the reportorial press is shrinking the discussant press is growing. Rosenstiehl pointed out that in the era of the Internet, there is a need for �smart aggregators� who can provide readers with concise stories without a need for them to go to Google and wade through thousands of accounts of the same story.

In answer to a question of what will become of the daily local newspaper, Rick Edmonds, formerly with the St. Petersburg Times and now with the Poynter Institute, answered that small community news-based websites with affiliated print offerings are springing up in many small communities across the country.

Steve Coll, formerly of The Washington Post, bemoaned the fact that many local and state governmental hearing rooms see very few journalists showing up these days to cover matters of great public importance.

When asked about a possible solution for the problems of newspapers, Coll suggested one solution would be for newspapers to become non-profit public trusts in the same manner that the Poynter Institute kept afloat The St. Petersburg Times. However, Coll cited the lack of clarity in the tax law and posed the question -- Do newspapers comply with 501(c)3 non-profit status? Coll urged Congress to change the tax laws to allow newspapers to become 501(c)3 entities and still be able to accept commercial advertisements.

Coll also said he believed the Federal Communications Commission should award licenses for scarce broadcast spectrum to those who serve the public interest. He thought that reduced FCC fees would be one way to support independent broadcast reporting. Coll also believes that arms-length funding streams budgeted for by Congress could replace corporate funds being lost for journalism. He cited the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a potential model for Congress to fund independent journalism. Lastly, Coll thought a presidential commission authorized by Congress should be established to ensure public broadcasting reform continues to provide for local and independent journalism across media platforms, including television, radio, print, and Internet and provide assurances that government-funded media entities are innovating with new media, including citizen reporting via cell phone video and photographs and Twitter.

The entire forum was focused heavily on how to save corporate print media from extinction.

Some of the panelists nostalgically hearkened back to the days when newspaper monopolies and duopolies in cities across the nation acted as gatekeepers for news reporting. However, that brand of journalism either is dead or is dying across the nation.

Gatekeeping is one aspect of journalism that is happily becoming extinct with new technology. Recently, The State of Columbia, South Carolina, released e-mails exchanged between South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford and his Argentine girlfriend after sitting on them for six months. Fox News was caught sitting on a letter sent to its anchor Megyn Kelly by a former staffer for Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign that described an illicit affair between Ensign and the former staffer�s wife. These two blatant examples of gatekeeping are a major reason why big corporate media should not receive one cent of federal money, either in the forms of tax breaks, incentives, reduced FCC fees, or grants.

This editor pointed to one area where Congress can help online journalists who are very much different from bloggers due to the fact that bloggers are usually not full-time journalists. I recommended to Representative Schiff that online journalists be separated from generic bloggers for purposes of press accreditation and the issuance of credentials. In so doing, online journalists would be afforded the same degree of access that is granted by the congressional press galleries to print and broadcast media.

In Washington, DC, access is a lifeblood issue and I pointed out to Representative Schiff that many online journalists, including this one, transitioned from print to the web some time ago but lost accredited access in the process. I also said that the Caucus on Freedom of the Press could jointly call on President Obama to ensure that the White House Press Office, as well as those of departments such as Defense and State, open up their long-term credentialing process to more online journalists. Representative Schiff said he appreciated being made aware of the importance of having a level playing field for official access for online journalists.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright � 2009

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor