Journalism Suffers Because Media Owned by Capitalists

Muncie, Indiana NEWS– While our first blog postings were about politics and wellness, our media start-up in Middletown, USA, quickly became a research project on journalism in Indiana and across the United States. All the latest polls shows we have lost trust in media, and journalists are abandoning the major publishers and venturing out on their own to pursue their passion. Is the transformation due to our digital revolution, internet and social media? Or, are they fleeing from deeper systemic problems?

Let’s Talk About Trust

In an article by Jay Rosen, called “A (brief) banking theory of newsroom trust”, he talks about how trust is earned and how journalists can build up deposits, and how they can lose deposits. While it’s a theory, it happens to align with our experience. Professor Rosen writes:

When the newsroom can’t provide the data and tools so that we can re-run the experiment and see what we get, when it can’t explain its reasoning so that even if we disagree we can see where the editors are coming from, when it has to conceal how it came to its conclusions and simply gesture at the complications involved without permitting us to enter into them… under conditions like these, the operation is drawing on deposits of trust put there by earlier acts of journalism that turned out to be trust-worthy.

Based on our experience, which also aligns with many other Hoosiers and Americans, our media companies have operated with little or no deposits for years – they’ve made more withdrawals than they have deposits – we just don’t trust what they print.

Why is this important? If we aren’t properly informed then we make poor decisions. It goes deeper. If our press doesn’t do its established role in society, then we don’t have a functioning democracy.

Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen wrote:

Liberal theorists have long argued that the existence of a unfettered and independent press within each nation is essential in the process of democratization, by contributing towards the right of freedom of expression, thought and conscience, strengthening the responsiveness and accountability of governments to all citizens, and providing a pluralist platform and channel of political expression for a multiplicity of groups and interests.

Our Founders gave tremendous powers to the press so they could hold our powerful government accountable. Our press was called the Fourth Estate, or Fourth Branch of Government, holding the other three branches accountable to the citizens it serves.

Media Ownership is the Problem

How is it doing? As mentioned above, a Gallup poll shows Americans have lost trust in newspapers since 1997, and there is now only a 22% confidence level in what they produce. In our world, it’s a failing grade.

If you listen to the industry, they keep talking about the “dynamic marketplace” and how they need to “redefine their newsroom for tomorrow”. They might produce more readable content, or generate entertaining videos, or searchable content, but it won’t improve our low trust in the medium.

The problem is deeper than making cosmetic changes to their content, or “engaging readers”.  When the citizens you serve don’t trust you, you’ve got a deep systemic, cultural problem.

So, if news executives have access to the same information we have, why are they having such a hard time making significant transformational changes?

It’s actually very simple. Today, over 90% of all media in this country is owned by six companies, and most of those companies are owned by institutional investors. They determine the board of directors who hire the CEO’s, who dictate the voice of the media outlet.

These same capitalists influence our federal and state governments with both direct and indirect  contributions, as U.S. Chamber members, and through lobbying efforts. Senator Bernie Sanders has told us, “Not a single law is passed in congress unless it’s approved by folks on Wall Street.”

And, they own our newspaper media companies so they can influence citizens by shaping the message how they see fit.

As a reminder, here are the nine core principles of journalism as defined by Pew Research:

  • Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
  • Its first loyalty is to citizens
  • Its essence is a discipline of verification
  • Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
  • It must serve as an independent monitor of power
  • It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
  • It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant
  • It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
  • Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

What happens when the truth leads you back to the owners of the newspaper? In case you haven’t noticed, all of our congressmen and women are millionaires thanks to private industry donations. How can you hold the government and/or politicians accountable when they receive money from the same corporations and executives who own your newspaper?

Talk about a significant conflict of interest. Journalists will not be guided by their personal conscience – they will be controlled by editors/managers who pay off our conscience with a bi-weekly paycheck on Friday.

Journalists are Driven by Conscience

You must understand, the passion which drives journalists comes from their conscience – their sense of right and wrong. What happens if the truth leads them to a major advertiser? If you find a dirty politician, but he’s a favored official of the republican party, do you get to write a story?

During the financial crisis, when their institutional owners, the great financiers like JP Morgan Chase, wrecked the global economy on risky bets, do you think Gannett and other media companies held them accountable?

Now you know why journalists from the IndyStar or The StarPress aren’t holding the republicans in this state accountable. Our state’s environment and its people are abused by corporations who pollute our air and water. Do you read any stories about Big AG opening thousands of new unregulated CAFO’s in Indiana? Do you read about the linkage of mercury in our air and soil and how it may link to our high infant mortality rates? What about how IDEM only has 9 air monitoring devices throughout the entire state?

Cosmetic changes like engaging the community, using social media, or producing more videos, won’t help you with the trust issue. Because of who owns the newspaper, we’ll never get the truth from Gannett or The StarPress. If you want to know why the newspaper has a conservative bias, it’s because of their ownership structure and who they serve.

It’s not because they enjoy picking on liberals, it’s because the newspaper is owned by capitalists – the same people who use our political parties to separate us. The wedges driven by capitalists are intentional and they use their media outlets to pass along the divisive language. We buy newspapers or watch broadcast media on television as consumers which is intentionally misleading us.

Only recently have they mentioned the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In fact, the IndyStar and StarPress have been opening up their pages to their hired shills when they should have been holding them accountable for their conflicts of interest.

Since our media companies are as corrupted as our politicians, is it any wonder we have brothers and sisters voting against their best interests. The newspapers and broadcast media owned by capitalists have convinced Hoosiers and a large segment of Americans, that our government is the problem – “We spend too much, and regulate too much!”

So, we vote for the most conservative politicians who support austerity and fight regulation. Behind the education reformers in this state are financiers from Wall Street. The same people who own politicians and the media, want access to our social security and public education dollars.

How will these kind of policies help working class Americans? Why would we want to see more Americans standing in line at the food pantries? Why would we want more pollution impacting our most vulnerable populations? Why do we support destroying public education – the very fabric of our democracy? Why would the working class want to prevent redistributing income from the 1% to the 99%?

It’s mind-boggling, but when you own the media, you can manipulate Americans into voting against themselves and not even realize it. We are co-contributors in our own destruction.

Community Owned Journalism is the Solution

This is why there is a need for citizen-owned community journalism versus capitalist owned media companies. Publicly owned media should be expanded across all mediums.  Jay Rosen produced the following very short video to define citizen journalism:

Approximately 90% of all media in this country is owned by just six companies. We’ll never get the truth from them. They aren’t in business to serve our needs – they are in business to make money – maximize profits. You can’t maximize profits and uphold the 9 core principles of journalism. They are in direct conflict with each other.

We need different perspectives. We need a media entity that can brand our community – emphasize and market our business community, support all public servants while holding them accountable, share real stories about real people, and rebuild our community’s image. But, at the core of this media company must be the utilization of the guiding principles.

Only when citizens are served by journalists who are driven by their own conscience to hold the powerful accountable will we have a free and open society – a fully functioning democracy. We need to empower journalists by supporting them with business models which guarantees their freedom to explore the truth and report the findings back to us.  Instead our news is censored by a hierarchy reporting back to Wall Street.

Our news should be relevant and expansive embracing forums for public criticism and compromise. Editors shouldn’t be threatening citizens or banning them from public media. Editors serve the public, not the other way around. Our priorities are reversed.

In order to reestablish trust in our media, we need to create a new media which is locally owned and deeply rooted in the principles of journalism. The editorial board should make sure that journalists remain faithful to these guiding principles, and promote exploration of truth.

We honestly believe the entire community will thrive in this environment. Hidden agendas will disappear and our political structure will be transparent embracing both sides of the aisle. Talk about reforming the political process.

We shouldn’t expect fewer reporters to adequately cover our community. As citizen journalists, we’ll all have to contribute using the tools made available by the journalism industry.

As a result of our comments, the media image will begin to reflect our community – not as outside owners want us to appear. It will be a culmination of responses from our private and public sectors, neighborhood associations, school systems, volunteers and paid staff. The more neighbors who give, the more representative our media community will become.

We will not be able to overcome our differences when the media companies are helping to drive us apart. Again, 99% of Americans are the working class. We may have a broad range of beliefs, but we are still the working class in America. If we truly want to overcome our obstacles as a working class, we need to stop listening to media interests owned by the Elite Ruling Class. We need our media interests to bring us together, not rip us apart.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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