Monday, July 13, 2009

Newspapers and truth

When Developers get too close, an editorial about Will County corruption which elaborates on Kristen McQueary's very poignant column yesterday, see Kudos for good journalism below, is often lacking in the newspaper business. Had there been more of this sort of thing, perhaps newspapers would not be in danger of failing altogether. And what a tragedy that would be.

Newspapers blame the Internet for their demise. But that is only a part of the equation. The newspaper was supposed to stand for truth, given every effort to see and report all angles of a story. A wise editor once told me that if you think you have both sides of the story, you probably don't have the whole story.

Newsrooms used to be peppered with highly-principled curmudgeons who served as role models for young reporters. Fighting for the little guy was business as usual. In those days public places were filled with seemingly headless people whose faces were buried in the outstretched double pages of their daily newspaper. Folks read the news with the unshakable belief that what they read was the unvarnished truth. They believed what they read because newspapers had a reputation.

Today people read a newspaper to get the latest sports scores. They want to see television listings. They rarely care about the news. While that isn't entirely the fault of the newspaper, the industry simply gave in, doing little to maintain what it used to stand for. It lowered the bar instead of challenging its readers. It caved into the capitalist model to make money at all cost, despite the fact that the Fourth Estate should have risen above that used by other businesses. Perhaps if the news had been written with a perspective the public could relate to, in a world where the little guy was being tormented by its own government, they would have kept reading. Yet how many times have stories been reported that take the side of the politically correct which is far from correct? All too often stories originate from sugar-coated press releases. Most papers fail to employ investigative reporters at a time when they are most needed. And how often has the view of advertisers colored the view of the news we read?

Kudos to the Southtown Star for remembering its humble beginnings as the Southtown Economist covering the south side of Chicago a generation ago. And to Kristen McQueary who has proven to be a peoples' reporter. Keep up the good work.