When it comes to blogging, there are two people that I particularly need to thank. Blackfive is one, for inviting me to become a part of the Blackfive blog as civilian-in-residence. Joe Katzman at Winds of Change is my Blogfather, and hosted my first posts more than four years ago -- something that came about via John Ringo and another forum. Right now, my blog is down as I make a number of changes, including blog software (blog temporarily available at http://laughingwolf.net/ee.php). The change means that I may lose some or all of my archives, so I am going to be reposting what I consider the best of Laughing Wolf. Blackfive is graciously allowing me to do some of that here as well, and to that end I am going to start with my Saving Pvt. Journalism series. At the end, I hope to do an update as well, looking at how things have changed (or not) in the time since. So, for those with no interest in media and such, skip ahead. For those interested, the first post is below the fold.
Originally Posted June 12, 2003
There are a number of posts up on this topic right now, but I have not read them as I was and am busy working on my own take on things. Indeed, I am in the process of asking some people in communications for whom I have a good deal of professional respect, to join in this effort and post their two-cents worth as well.
Even without their inputs, it will be a process of several, or even many, posts. Were I write at Denbestian length, it would still require a number of them. The process of reforming, of saving journalism is something that needs and deserves thought, care, and serious discussion.
It requires distinguishing between the press, The Media, and Entertainment; and, it requires some knowledge of how we got into this situation. Be it to gain a better understanding, or simply to follow the adage of “History Gone Mad” in which it is said how can you hope to screw something up right, if you don’t know how they screwed it up in the first place.”
There are many simplistic solutions that would definitely fall in that latter category. So that we don’t screw things up and make them worse, it is well to take some time now, gather facts, and then engage in some serious skull sweat. The founding fathers did so, and it seems to have worked out well. We should endeavor to do no less.
First, we must distinguish between the press, The Media, and Entertainment. A difficult task given how blurred the lines between them have become, but not so hard in other ways. They share some common traits, but there are crucial distinctions that set them apart.
The press is true journalism. It is someone who decides to pursue a story and present it to the world. Within that framework, they adhere to certain principles that include presenting facts honestly and accurately, providing key points of view, noting where other points are excluded, admitting to potential conflicts of interest, and otherwise ensuring that the reader has all the major facts for judging both the story and the situation it describes. Honest is the key word for work done this way.
While the story may be done for altruistic reasons, such as to right a wrong or make the public aware of a crucial item, it is also done for another key reason: to make money. At the least the writer hopes to recoup expenses, and at best to make a tidy profit. It must be noted, however, that the latter is a very rare occurrence in journalism.
The desire to make money is a key common denominator between the three. All want and need to make money. Without a profit, there is no way to buy supplies, cover expenses, and get the story out. The profit motive is also a good divider, with the means and amounts being useful.
The Media is in business to make money, fairly significant money in the case of large publications or operations. It does this by catering, some may call it pandering, to a given market or demographic. The stories are written for this audience, whether it is formally acknowledged or not. The stories carried in the media tend to be of the type to provoke, to titillate, and to hook the reader, listener, or viewer. This may be done by honest rhetorical device, but often through misleading or distorted headlines or broadcast teasers.
Entertainment goes full-tilt after the chosen market. It rarely has any interest in the truth, unless the truth provides a good hook on which to build a story. Outright fiction is preferred, as license taken with it rarely draws the howls of outrage that tampering with historical facts tends to do. This does except, of course, the occasional incompetent screw-up of a work of fiction so that fans of that story – or even the author – are inclined to scream in rage or anguish.
These are, for now, somewhat simplistic categories and distinctions. This will change over time, but it serves as a jumping off point. Tomorrow, or one day soon, we will go into the history of how we got here, and, for that matter, where is here.