Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Journalistic Priests - Not a Metaphor That Should Become Reality

On Sunday the program Beyond the Beltway had a journalist on who decried the decline of the journalistic "priesthood."   DuMont's program is presented on a local radio station here on Sunday afternoon and often when I am coming home from an afternoon workout I tune it in.   The premise is a) DuMont is an Illinois political junkie and b) he invites a variety of guests on to talk politics.   By variety he goes for variations in political stripes.   On Sunday's program he had a democrat, republican and a reporter whose name (according to the show summary) was Jim Camden, who is a veteran political columnist.

Camden argued for the good old days when there were only three networks and a small group of journalists who had been trained "like physicians" could determine what was appropriate to put before us as news.   Indeed, the news business is messier today than it was at some time in the past.   And you can count on inaccuracies in reporting.   Camden's ideal world existed only in part.  True, some reporters then went to schools of journalism. I would not count their training as rigorous as physicians but they did learn how to write a story.  True, many reporters withheld stories they thought were outside the bounds of appropriate news.  The question is did the public benefit from having the high priesthood?

On balance the current system is better.   Many reporters have been shown to have a significant bias in their reporting.  One need only bring up cases like Dan Rather's dismissal from CBS, where one of the priesthood created a story out of thin air or coverage by journalistic temples like the New York Times and Newsweek that consistently use "christian" and "conservative" as an epithet, to defeat the characterization.

The US began with a robust mix of reporting - some of it outrageous.   The "priesthood" that the reporter idealized was a relatively brief (thankfully) period in our history. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch (in the Washington Examiner - which is a good example of one kind of new journalism) make the case to "citizen" journalists they comment "Name a subject that dominant city newspapers have walked away from covering intensely -- statehouse politics, high school sports, local crime -- and you'll find some entrepreneurial characters filling the void with gusto." 

If markets work in all sorts of other places why not ideas?   But then I would guess that the reporter  who wants a return to the "priesthood" does not like markets in many places.

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