Newsweek is in serious trouble. Their own reporters covering their spiral into the abyss will not be objective: not because they will cover up what their owners have done, but they will deflect attention on their own slumber and complicity.
Their coverage now is a day late, and a dollar short.
But journalism always needed other reporters writing investigative pieces about the profession. I wrote numerous articles over the years, but the hardest-hitting ones were always nixed. I had, early in my career, proposed a media column for the now defunct Guelph Mercury, and the editor/publisher at the time had been interested. I had written sample columns, and it was to be a-go…and he died before the first column was ever published. His replacement did not like the idea, and so, instead of writing it for Canadian newspapers, I decided an upgrade to US magazines would be the better choice, and then I made the switch.
But while there were media beats, they were more about the ethics than the actual flawed mechanisms. Howard Kurtz was the closest to it.
The trouble always was that journalists covering journalism were more cheerleading and making unfounded assumptions, always looking at outsiders as the bad guys who were having various “chilling effects” on journalism. Media critics tended to be professors who may have studied journalism, but as they didn’t work as journalists, their theories were always widely off the mark.
As someone who worked as a reporter to study how it functions — or didn’t — the signs of trouble were always glaring, but very rarely were my media criticism books helpful as guides. There was always some sort of disconnect: the ones who had the experience didn’t have the science, but those with the science didn’t have the experience. You can’t just watch journalists do their jobs or even interview them to get the full story.
You have to be put under the gun and go through the motions. You have to have articles shelved because there is a fear of a lawsuit or the publication has ceased to exist. You have to have those fights with editors, and hunt down elusive sources and deceptive handlers.
I always felt like an army of one-woman with a thousand enemies at my throat as a reporter: the siege is real, and it is everywhere.
And all that, and the story gets published, and people write a complaint letter with a Red John happy face on the envelope thanking the postman for delivering hate mail to you…and then when you see the letter, you realize the person not only didn’t actually read your piece, but they are trying to sell you Avon.
And then you go into battle and do it again and again.
Had the press actually been vigilant, they would have exposed Newsweek’s woes long before the raid. The profession needed a form of meta-journalism that turned over every rock with the shadow of conflict of interest hovering overhead.
Journalism was supposed to be a serious business, and it refused to take a hard look at itself. It would have helped.
Instead, the lack of vigilance killed it, and that was its greatest tragedy: the death was absolutely needless. What happened at Newsweek would have never gotten that far if the press learned to be as skeptical of themselves as they purported to be to outsiders.