Tom Plate , Los Angeles | Sat, 04/25/2009 1:33 PM | Opinion
It seems that quality journalism is becoming more conspicuous than ever by its absence. But the causes are complex.
Sometimes governments are the fault. In Sri Lanka, convulsing in civil war, independent journalists have not been permitted near the fierce zones of conflict between government forces and beleaguered clusters of minority Tamils.
Many are deported. Earlier this month, Jeremy Page, of The Times UK, was kicked out and put on a plane back to England. That was nothing. In January, editor and Sri Lankan government critic Lasantha Wickrematunga penned and published his own fatalistic obituary, writing: "When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me." Three days later, he was murdered, and arrests have been made yet.
Thus, no one has a clear idea of whether Tamil civilians are being held as human body-shields by what is left of the anti-government terrorists among them, or are huddled in fear of possible ethnic cleansing by the government.
No one knows much - except that the crisis is "nothing short of catastrophic," simply says the International Red Cross.
Similarly, journalists were mainly kept away from the recent fighting in Gaza. They were limited, by the Israeli government, to perching, gawking and squinting at the action miles away. It was impossible to confirm whether Gaza's civilians were in greater danger from Israeli guns or from Hamas' Machiavellian tactics that seemed to taunt for Israeli gunfire. Quality journalism could have cleared the issue up. That's what it is for.
Journalism, at its best (which is not always what it is, to be sure), tells the truth about power and tells the truth to power. The practice is decidedly unfashionable in places that cannot handle the truth -or care only about staying in power.
North Korea snatched two American journalists on its border with China, threw them into a Pyongyang hellhole and charged them with espionage in March. Euna Lee and Laura Ling, a former super student of mine at the University of California, Los Angeles, are professional American journalists. If they are working for the CIA, as the North Korean government is suggesting, then I am prepared to state that I am the real James Bond.
In Iran, Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi just got slapped with an eight-year spying sentence. As with the North Korean case, the proceeding was held behind closed doors. An unnamed Iranian judiciary official put it in these words: "Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Roxana Saberi to eight years for espionage.
She can appeal the sentence." Saberi has two masters' degrees, from Cambridge in England and Northwestern in Chicago. She is a former Miss North Dakota who she made it to the final ten in the 1998 Miss America contest. She reported for the BBC, National Public Radio in America, and Fox News. Not bad, eh?
It should tell us something obvious, in fact, that aggressive journalism is reviled in places like Sri Lanka, North Korea and Iran. What's surprising is that the power doesn't like independent journalism, even in Thailand - even before the latest political chaos.
To be sure, governments aren't the only reason quality journalism is increasingly absent; journalist institutions are themselves contributing to the crisis. They are cutting budgets, firing journalists, eliminating whole sections and in some cases are shutting down entirely.
This is surely the case in the United States, the titular head of journalistic freedom. Even our industry leader, the New York Times, is looking more and more like a Big Three auto company in need of a government bailout. That's not going to happen in the United States of America, of course. It's too bad: If anything should be declared too big and important to fail, it should be the country's leading daily newspaper.
The other day the New York Times was awarded five esteemed Pulitzer Prizes. This was good to see. It remains a tremendous newspaper. So is The Wall Street Journal, even under its new owner, Rupert Murdoch, who may not deserve the oh-so pious bashing he got (from critics like me) when he brought the paper. After all, at least Murdoch understands - and loves - newspapers.
Someone who clearly doesn't is Sam Zell, who engineered a buyout of The Los Angeles Times (and which this year won but one Pulitzer, below its usual) from the Tribune Company. Commented Zell, "I haven't figured how to cash in a Pulitzer." This is a big part of the problem: Newspaper proprietors who fail to understand that quality journalism is priceless. What is the ultimate cost to peoples and societies when the truth is hidden from them?
The writer is former university professor and author of Confessions of an American Media Man, was Editor of the Editorial Pages of The Los Angeles Times (1989-95).
According to the article above (taken from the Jakarta Post), there are at least two reasons of the absence of quality journalism: the government and the journalist institutions.
If it is the government who did not give access to journalists, then the citizen can fill in the function...That is how citizen journalism is important.
If it is the journalist institutions who cut down budget, eliminating sections, fired journalists...then we can really be mourning, as there will be no example of how to achieve quality journalism...
Citizen can fill in the gap between government to media, or between journalist to grassroots, but to have quality journalism - just like other professions - journalists need practice and experience.
Being a citizen reporter made me realize how much investment should be done by a journalist institution to build their community, to gather the most fresh but verified information. It is something that would probably difficult for a standing alone citizen reporter.
If the company is cutting budget, then perhaps it is also cutting the chance for its journalist to cover a story within a deep and objective perspective.
Eliminating sections means that some readers are not getting their right of knowledge, as unpopular section will be eliminated...sometimes those are the qualified but unpopular one. I can see through wikimu that it is not the quality of presentation that attract the majority of readers. The title and leading paragraph yes, but that's only one aspect. Sometimes articles that I wrote just to kill time, something that is actually "empty" for me, is more popular than the one I prepared with full attention and research.
Firing journalists, either for the different idealism or for financial reasons, will also degrading the quality of journalism. To be professional, it is important to stay focus in the subject or work we are facing. I can write, but I do need my time to be a mother of three active boys, and to share it with my social life too. I love writing, but I do need to think about the financial consequences that will follow my decision of time table...which one is more important, write as a volunteer citizen reporter or concentrating in a personal business to help the family financially? I know that those professional journalist also has the same amount of time to share with their family or their other social activities, but their prime concentration is in the journalism itself. I think it works for every professions. A doctor should be concentrating in healing his/her patients, and if it comes to citizen journalism then it should be his/her way of communicative approach to the other citizen, either as a doctor (professional) or as a mere citizen. Yet, a proffesional journalist should concentrate on communicative approach toward the readers, and hopefully that is how they also make their living...so they won't need to think of other sources.
Only by enhancing the communication between citizen and the journalism institution (as the representative of the professional journalists) then we can have a better quality of journalism...the one that serves the need of its readers.