Journalism is a noble calling — or at least that’s what so many of us believed throughout our careers.
We were society’s watchdogs, democracy’s infantry, doing the dirty work of ferreting out the truth about what was really going on in our government, our society. We took no prisoners, threw our verbal bricks at windows on both sides of street.
Or so we thought.
Of course, that wasn’t my experience for the most part. The watchdogs were our bosses, making sure we didn’t go too far. Only the truly talented had the right to exercise the First Amendment to any real degree. The rest of us sneaked in the truth, if we could, between the lines the same way good journalists at Pravda did.
Some of us with an excess of passion also formed an underground. We pushed the rules of corporate journalism to the edges and took our chances. Sometimes we went too far, sometimes we succumbed to alcoholism, or gave up and joined the fraternity of public manipulators in the world of public relations experts, lobbyists and political staff.
The collapse of newspapers in particular and news media in general that’s now under way has robbed even the most diehard journalists I know of all illusion. The game is up. At my former paper, four great journalists have quit in just a few weeks — all for public relations where they will earn a much better living, have more fun and salve their wounds knowing there is life after your dream is over.
Soon, a friend said recently, there will be no journalists left for all the PR types to manipulate.
And that’s the point of this: Manipulation of the media is far more sophisticated than the media and that’s been true for a long, long time. It’s a big reason our government at all levels is doing such a poor job of serving the people and such a good job of serving itself.
Look at the billions being poured into the presidential campaign and the billions more into local and state elections. Where does that money come from and where does it go?
The answers are obvious: From special interests, to a vast political apparatus of campaign consultants and operatives, many of whom are actually paid by taxpayers to work on the staffs of elected officials. Add in the armies of public information manipulators on the staff of every government agency and corporation and you begin to get the picture.
This is real government. It works full-time to beguile and mislead the public. It sets the agenda for 90 percent of the political and governmental coverage you see in newspapers and TV.
It’s why we talk about health care and education and immigration policy and public safety but never really do anything about them. It’s why we get distracted by abortion and gay marriage when no law will stop women from getting rid of unwanted fetuses or stop gays who truly love each other from sharing a committed relationship.
This is what I believe and have believed a long time even as I fought in some small way to shed light in the darkness. The internet is changing things. A lot of people are speaking up and beginning to be heard. In the next few years their voices in all their diversity will become louder and more important. The pieces are all in place and the incredible success of Google, Myspace, Flickr, Facebook, Youtube shows just how viral and virile the internet is.
We need to apply those technologies to the reinvention of news in a way that empowers us to be informed and think for ourselves despite the blitzkrieg of propaganda.
I’ve only been free from the daily grind of putting out a newspaper under extremely difficult circumstances for a month but I no longer see myself as a failed idealist doing all that he can to make a difference.
But I see the possibility of real change. And the power to bring that about belongs to all of us, to get over our defeatism, our apathy, our narrow definitions of what matters and see that 90 percent of us share similar values. We want a decent life for our families, opportunity for our kids, safety in our homes and on our streets…
I don’t have to tell you what’s really important…it’s nothing more than to lead our lives as we see fit without hurting other people, to speak our minds freely and to find happiness.
If I sound like a kid again, it’s because I feel like one. As I’ve gotten out in the community more, I’m meeting a lot of people who have been working hard at this and doing it for a long time. You can laugh all you want but I believe the time is right, the issues are right for a quiet revolution of the silenced majority to take back this country — starting with this city.