Fate of journalism in our hands

Oct. 3 marks the 19 anniversary of my grandfather’s death.
 His contributions to journalism at Eastern Michigan University led to my passion for the written word.
He saw this coming – the degradation of journalism in America and the world.
 In fact, he blamed the Cold War on bad journalism.
“There is no doubt it happened,” he wrote in a book he didn’t finish.
It hasn’t gotten any better.
When it comes to kinds of bad journalism, he wrote, “One is simple incompetence. Sometimes, it’s not anybody’s fault.”
Alas, journalism is anchored in a loathsome marsh, mired in simple incompetence.
Yet it’s also closing in on becoming nobody’s real fault.
I’ve watched Fox News. I’ve watched MSNBC. I’ve seen Glenn Beck. I’ve seen Rachel Maddow.
Watch Fox, and the liberals accuse you of getting all your information from a hard-right, skewed version of reality.
Watch MSNBC, and the conservatives accuse you of being a slave to the liberal media, where America goes to die.
Listen to Rush Limbaugh, and you’re sure to hear something conservative.
Listening to Ed Schultz, all the way on the other hand…
The problem, however, isn’t exclusively in the overtly biased nature of news.
This outbreak of poor media isn’t contained to news; both National Geographic and, more intensely, the History Channel have succumbed to sub-par programming.
Between pawn stores, antique hunters, swamp rednecks, Alaskan truckers, rogue Amish, prison sociology, motorcycle customizers, pseudohistorian “investigators,” and Einstein-haired alien fanatics, I’m not sure I can take much more.
It doesn’t help that there are entire companies devoted to the pointless shadowing of celebrities, who sometimes are only famous for being famous!
The paparazzi hound them, write about them, spread rumors about them, and do everything in their power to make their lives sound relevant to laymen. Because, don’t you know, the rich and famous are just like us.
And the sad part is, people buy it. People eat that stuff up, and readily.
Anywhere you go – to magazines, to newspaper, to television, to radio, to the Internet – there is a big resource with a dominant bias.
The biased, the abject, and the pointless are nearly impossible to drown out without actively searching for alternatives. Often, this must be done without a starting point and without a guiding light.
But isn’t much of this media exposure supposed to constitute our down time?
Isn’t this supposed to be part of our refuge from effort, when we simply relax and see what’s happening in the world?
Somewhere in the cacophony of it all, people are supposed to get an educated, straightforward presentation of the facts, so they can shape their own worldview.
But where is the accountability? Where is the shame?
For God’s sake, where are the standards?
Perhaps it’s the invention of the 24-hour news channel that brought journalism and educational television to their knees.
24-hour news networks always need something to talk about, even if they repeat the same three shreds of information for the same number of hours.
On a slow news day, they may, and often do, feel the need to       either milk something small for a story, or make something happen.
That’s not journalism. That’s not reporting. At best, that’s busy work that often results in muckraking. Muckrakers aren’t objective.
At best, a 24-hour news channel will send a correspondent off to participate in some pointless local event that nobody cares about.
Maybe there should be more of that.
It would probably be a good start. At this point, the bar has gotten so low, baby steps look necessary.
But I’m not holding my breath.
“Good journalists,” my grandpa Curt wrote later in the same piece, “like anyone pursuing intellectual truth, must question all that comes to them.”
For biased news channels and rumor-starting magazines, this should become a common practice.
To do that, the nearest hope sits with the developing generation, the next several waves of journalists. If we don’t even attempt to stay objective, even though we’re prone to opinion, and we do things for the ratings, for the money, we sell our soul as a generation.
That degrades our potential as a people and as a species, because it’s not good journalism. I’m more convinced that good journalism exists as a support for society, not as a means of prostitution or propaganda.
“Good journalism provides objective information,” my grandpa said. “Bad journalism taints the discussion and information process.”
I agree.
 The difference is important, but we’re not acting like it. As a society, I vote we fix that.