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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is Journalism Dead?

From my other blogs: MARCH 25, 2009 2:22PM

Free news sources and professional reporting

The issue of free news sources was a feature on the BBC and on Wall Street Week, where newspapers are failing due to free Internet access to news. On line service by newspapers are actually rushing the demise of print news without generating the revenue. One argument is that paid services would force quality and accuracy of journalistic content. On the other side access to information and multiple views would be severely limited if all media were paid, plus there would be an even greater divide than there is now between an informed electorate and the general public, many of who buy free gossip on the Internet or talk radio as truth.

The loss of paid and professional journalists is something to be concerned about if we wish our democracy to continue. Unfortunately Fox News and the Republicans seem to want journalism to evolve into PR flacks and bloggers who can be manipulated by big business and the Republican Party.

Radio stations have shed news departments, with markets that once had two to as many as ten radio news departments down to one or in some cases no actual radio station crews. Television stations now provide promos or short headlines or radio stations, while providing news services to as many as three television stations in each market from one studio and news crew. Newspapers are shedding employees, closing bureaus, shrinking pages and in some cases disappearing entirely. Even the large television and cable networks have had to shed staff, close bureaus and replace costly reporting with talking head and ratings grabbing commentators masquerading as news anchors or journalist. Reuters and the AP have radically slashed wire service staff, have fewer reporters at affiliates to feed them leads and stories and have retooled to newsmagazine formats from hourly or immediate news providers. UPI is for all practical purposes dead, despite the name continuing. Bloomberg has reduced its staff by 50%.

Sources of news, variety of reporting voices and perspectives, fact checking, feet on the ground, pages or time for in depth reporting and local news sources are all disappearing rapidly.

What is news is being driven by advertising priorities, ratings, papers sold, and consumer preference. The little girl in the well trumps a major natural disaster overseas or a war. A celebrity takes time and ink from real newsmakers or real events. Name-calling and negative spin trump balanced reporting on events or issues that should see the light of day. Ethnocentric priorities have overcome any pretense of a fair and balanced view of the world.

Media is dyeing through consolidation, financial crunch, profit motive and the systematic dumbing down of the American population.

The answer, we are told, is the multitude of Internet based voices. But are these balanced, informed or accurate? I have students provide “proof” of things that are wrong or inaccurate using a wide range of Internet “sources.” You can defend any point of view or find alternatives to what trained journalist report easily on the net, without delving into the opinion driven realm of blogs.

Newspapers are not dead, but are evolving or for pessimists, dying. 1.7 million copies of the Philadelphia Inquirer are delivered or purchased at newsstands each day. The New York Times boast many times that amount. Wall Street Journal does well, even with requiring subscription or payment or their on-line publication.

NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday looked at journalism a different way. They looked at how dangerous the profession has become. For National Public Radio the issue is personal. They have had four journalist and many staff members (drivers, translators and so on) held or killed over the past seven years. Correspondent Roxanna Saberi has been held captive for over a year by Iran, without charges, at an undisclosed location. The pleas or her release are currently being heard at the UN level.

First posted 9-2-2009

Reid under the microscope

Take the time to read this morning's Las Vegas Sun: click here.

OK, if you are dead set against Harry Reid you will not care about the truth about the man, his conservative political voting record, his ability to forge compromises or the great deal he has done for the state, including blocking Yucca Mountain and saving City Center. You will blow off the reality that as a US Senator he has been an asset to Nevada and if reelected will continue to be in a position that no freshman senator, Democrat or Republican can hope to reach. Take the time to read about the man. Check out his own writings from the library. Look up his previous votes and speeches. Do the same for any opponent he may face in November. This is a democracy. Do the research in a balance and academic way.

Sunday Morning News and Views

This past week a panel of Congress members blamed Americas and the media for the stagnation in Washington. They say that the need for sensationalism and conflict in the media is driven by public demand and that that demand has led to the constant campaign season environment that has a chokehold on Washington. Ratings driven “news” means news and commentary driven by viewer or listener demand and interests levels. This leads to sound bites and slogans and opens the door to manipulation by special interests groups, including the broadcasters themselves, with an interest in audience size and advertising revenue.

Most of the media people we believe at the national level make very good salaries, unlike all of the underlings below them or struggling reporters in local markets. These pundits, anchors and editors are past knowing what it is to live paycheck to paycheck or to deal with many of the issues they pontificate about as ‘experts’. Their interests is not the same as the generation of anchors before them, and more about ego, job longevity, ratings and doing what it takes to keep eyeballs or ears focused on them for the longest period of time possible. They are wanna be, or actual celebrities in our celebrity addicted society.

There are plenty of legitimate, well informed, skilled and dedicated journalist in the field, but the talking heads of 24/7 news channels that are really talk and commentary sprinkled with some alleged news coverage, have overshadowed these real journalist in the minds of the public. The overall credibility of a profession needed for Democracy to flourish has fallen to all time lows. This plays into the hands of those who the fourth estate was envisioned by Madison and others to keep in check. Freedom is limited when special interests, large corporate dollars and ratings points determine what the public hears, sees and eventually believes.

An intellectual divide is also being forged, and not to the benefit of the overall society. It is sad when only those who are well educated seek out opposing views, try to understand others and read multiple well-researched sources.
Middle East
Arabic has been declining in use in the traditional Arab world, at least high Arabic, the language of the historic culture. In Lebanon Arabic language experts and volunteers are setting up a program to return Arabic to the language of choice in a country where French, English and various Middle Eastern languages and dialects overshadow Arabic.

Uniforms are a problem in Iraq. They are sold on the streets by vendors because the official price is beyond the income of soldiers, security and police officers. Of course terrorism remains a problem in Iraq and throughout the reason, so uniforms remain a way for terrorist to get past security to do their damage. And to complicate matters there are hundreds of combinations in uniform designs, insignia and appearance in Iraq alone. Each police force, government agency, private security firm and even branch of the military has complex combinations of uniform looks and designs. To counter this Iraqi forces are doing undercover stings, to make sure vendors require badges and photo identification before selling uniforms. Standardization is underway, but will take time and is difficult to coordinate fully in a country that for the most part remains in a civil or religious state of war.

The Taliban in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq both targeted the educated population of the country, executing or working to death professors, writers, doctors, social service workers and their families. Historically whenever there is a revolution “of the people” those who know how to do things, who read about and understand the past, who have the ability to help others rise above adversity or learn about the world around them are the first to be lined up against the wall and shot. Basically those who hold strong views are not tolerant of dissent, and work to quash what they disagree with. Where executions are not considered acceptable, political executions through charges, inference, slogans and generalities blown out of proportion serve the same purpose. As an example, painting Senator Harry Reid as a liberal when his voting record is conservative, with the goal or eliminating him from his leadership position in the senate. Or a governor using the power of the pen to eliminate professors and access to higher education through budget cuts.

Chili Earthquake
Media coverage has been sensationalized, creating expectations and tension where it would be better to minimize and report. The quake is a disaster, and there is death and destruction and a reality to consider and report on.

Superlatives and assumptions are for casual conversation, or classroom examples, yet our society has allowed the role of journalist to erode so much, thanks to a craving for conversational and personality based presentation by the public. CNN and other broadest channels were calling the earthquake in Chili the worst in history.

The BBC, where journalism still matters, got it right from the beginning. It is one of the strongest, not worst, and only one. We have unofficial recorded quakes in the 9, and10 scale, but they are rare and some are only recorded through geographic record. The largest ever recorded by modern equipment was 9.5, back in 1960 in Chili. Alaska had a 9.2, Japan, China and Chili itself have had quakes in excess of the 8.8 Chili quake over the past 60 years. The previous large quake in Chili killed over 150 people in Japan and over 1,200 in countries outside Chili through tsunami and related aftershocks. The 1960 Chili quake led to changes in earthquake codes and how cities are built.

Another omission by US coverage is that we kept talking about Hawaii and later Japan. Actually 53 other countries had Tsunami warnings after the Chili quake, all warranted despite the low impact that was actually felt. The warning system revealed large swells and momentum

12 dead on Robinson Curso Island off the coast of Chili, with an unknown number of others dead from the tsunami at sea, mostly off the direct coast of Chili. Over 300 are dead in Chili, a minimum projected amount that could rise rapidly as communication is restored, given the large geographic scale of the quake and the strength of aftershocks (7 were over 6.0). The aftershocks and destruction are major, with large infrastructure problems with some small towns leveled. But Chili, like Japan, sits among the most prepared for a major earthquake in the world. In fact much of the central city infrastructure is operational this morning. Suburban, rural and major highways, ports and other infrastructure remain days or weeks away from return to any form of normalcy. Much of the area hit has no water or electricity, in the hottest season of the year (they sit below the equator after all). The region affected by the quake includes 85% of the countries population.
Olympics and the importance of the hockey “match” with the USA took up quite a bit of BBC sports time, with the focus on the national pride of usually kicked back Canada. Many in Canada will consider these games, despite financial and medal count success for the host country, a failure if Canada does not take the gold in the spot they invented. While curling remains the national sport, Hockey really is the sport Canadians cheer for and consider their sport. The US has not earned the gold in hockey since the Miracle on Ice in 1980, so we are not about to give the victory to Canada, at least not easily. The US team is favored. Anyway you look at it, with a son-in-law from Canada a change of “Oh Canada” or the one that is deeply a part of my own history, “USA, USA” will feel good. It’s a no lose gold medal game!

Canada has earned 13 medals, the most of any host country in winter Olympic history (medals or gold medals, I am not sure).

US most medals, 37, the biggest haul of any nation in Winter Olympic history. Canada most gold from this, their home games.

Of course Canada did win the gold in its official national sport of Curling. The crowd spontaneously broke out in “Oh, Canada”, their national anthem.

Wall Street Journal Report
PIMCO CEO and market strategist Tony Crescenzi says it will be at least six months before the Fed raises rates Bernake’s report to congress received a very small reaction in the markets, the lowest reaction since the 1960’s. The Gross Domestic Product was revised up, to 5.9% growth. He warns that 3.9 points of that were inventory build-ups and some of it from government fiscal stimulus, so the rise is both seasonal and artificial.

He says to thinks in terms of risk diversification instead of asset diversification. Look at risk factors including liquidity, country risk, supply and demand. This remains a very dangerous environment.

On the health care summit he says the health care discussion along with other discussions in Washington are hurting recovery and business, because we are in a strict and strengthening regulatory environment.

The risk factor of the day is sovern credit, or country risk in debt to GDP, demographics, consumption patterns, potential growth and politics.

Yale University professor Robert Shiller says the turn around in the housing market is the largest since tracking began. Home sales, despite what is occurring in Las Vegas, are on strongly on the rebound. The truth is that prices may fall further, despite the trend, and even in cities like San Francisco that is up 15% since it bottomed out last year.

Shiller says the mortgage market is supported by a sense of morality among Americans, with 80% seeing defaulting on a mortgage as immoral. There is an erosion of that commitment due to the highly reported corporate abuse and luxurious salaries and benefits.

The economy is made up of people. We change in our confidence level, and we change in our habits. Confidence is key to any recovery, and it is not there today. Lending is not healthy and without healthy lending entrepreneurship, small business, home ownership and all of cores of America remain far form healthy. It is vital, Shiller says, for confidence to be restored before any true recovery can occur.

Consumers will see a difference from the new credit card laws. They will no loner be able to raise your rates on existing balances, will show you how long it will take you to pay off at minimum payments and the end cost, plus for those under 21 a co-signer or proof of credit worthiness will now be required. Senior writer for Money Magazine Donna Rosato explained the changes in credit card laws to host Maria Bartiromo.


I discovered one reason Maria Bartiromo sees the world different from the rest of us. She has always earned enough money to not only pay cash for everything, but to have sizable savings and investments. In modern terms tat makes her wealthy, yet she sees herself as typical middle class.

The average wage of Americans is down by 50% in adjusted dollars from 1965, based on figures prior to the start of our current recession.

From 2002 to 2007 the average wage went up zero, while the cost of living went up over 27%. In the US we have the lowest compensation level of any industrialized nation against our cost of living (countries with lower compensation have greater social service programs).

CEO’s make over 270 times the wage of a typical worker, whereas back in the 1970;s that number was 20 to 30 times, with may capping themselves at ten. To be more specific, in 1979 corporate CEO’s earned up to 27 times what their average workers made, by 2009 tat jumped to 275 times the wage of their average worker.

But perception counts. We feel better off and we identify ourselves as middle class, despite the statistical loss of the middle class consistently since 1970.  The perception is based on image, advertising, media and our ability to mortgage our soul and run up credit, something that is coming to a screeching halt given the current economy.

We feel wealthier because we were able to buy things, on credit, and live the lifestyle we felt was middle class. 70% of Americans identify themselves as middle class, yet fewer than 17% actually fall into what is now needed for a middle class lifestyle.

The wealthy are worth more than ever before and control a larger percentage of the wealth in America than any other time in history, including the robber barons of the 19th century and the plantation and factory owners of the 18th century.

Meanwhile regular Americans, and America’s position in the world, are on a slippery, but reversible slope.

The US Economy is 5% smaller than before the recession, while Asia is 15% larger and Europe back to where there were before the recession started. The US and our position as Americans are slipping and will never, or may never, are what it was before. Industrial, intellectual and other sectors are investing overseas, with American and foreign funds. The profits of American companies are being invested in China, India, Eastern Europe and even African rather than the US. The current recession should drive home, to anyone who takes the time to really study it, that feeding the corporate bottom line means taking away from America’s.

Investment is going to nations that provide health care, education and other benefits to their citizens, but where the cost for corporations are far lower (lower cost labor, government investment in corporate interests, positive financial partnerships and stable investment growth).

Business also likes stability. The US is on the decline, with a government that appears deadlocked between two polar philosophies and policies. From bailouts to health care, issues that directly impact business have been divisive and decisions inconsistent, when they are made at all.

The rise in health care cost is the largest single component driving up the deficit. Why is it that people refuse to believe or see that? Do the research. Not talking points or special interests, but cold hard facts and neutral studies. Health care is rising well above inflation, while incomes are going down or flat. It is disproportionately hitting the poor, which is why those who have health care feel safe and are against reform. It is impacting all copays, prescription costs, the cost or doctors to remain in business (so we are losing doctors), the ability of hospitals to remain open. We have to insure troops and government employees, cover the uninsured, support research and try to help citizens keep up with rising costs. Health care is actually the primary driving cost on inflation, on closing or limiting small business and entrepreneurial growth, and is two to one the top cause of bankruptcies at all levels.

So if you have money, then oppose health care reform, and when it drives up the deficit, blame Obama, whose reform would help control the deficit. Again, do the academic research instead of rejecting the argument on pure political or philosophical grounds.
Despite the earthquake, Olympics, health care and congressional debate, CBS Sunday Morning aired a “special issue” on money, filled with mostly repeats of reports I had seen before.