Media Convergence

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Journalism Selections #2


Again, it's impossible to sum up Romenesko's blog into one paragraph, so I'm just going to write my thoughts one particular instance that caught my eye this week.

Last Sunday, The Miami Herald (as well as, I imagine, El Nuevo Herald) ran an editorial by publisher Jesus Diaz Jr., in which Diaz defends his paper's decisions to fire three writers who were also working for government-sponsored TV and Radio Martí:

I approved the dismissals because, as the publisher of these newspapers, I am deeply committed to the separation between government and a free press. Further, our employees violated our conflict-of-interest rules. All of our journalists acknowledge and agree to adhere to our policies, which include this statement:

We demonstrate our principles by operating with fairness, accuracy and independence, and by avoiding conflicts of interest, as well as the appearance of conflicts of interest. Our news operations will be diligent in their pursuit of the truth, without regard to special interests.

Our decisions, painful as they were, reaffirm our commitment that reporters and editors at our newspapers are free of even the hint of a conflict of interest.

These programs - basically pirate radio and television programming - were a part of the federal government's anti-Castro campaign and received a considerable amount of backing from federal agencies, including funds and aid from the Pennsylvania National Guard. The decision to fire these writers was the source of major controversy within Miami's Cuban community as well as within the papers themselves.

The dismissals, coupled with the decision to run a pair of editorials - one by Ana Menendez and the other by Carl Hiaasen - that "may inflame sentiments in the Cuban community", are an affirmation of the high journalistic standards all media outlets should strive to attain. I wrote about my concerns regarding corporate-controlled media last week, and I think it's fair to say that I hold the same concerns regarding government-sponsored media. For instance, over the past few years, columnists and journalists such as Maggie Gallagher and Armstrong Williams were found to have accepted money from the government in order to promote controversial programs like No Child Left Behind and the Bush administration's marriage initiative. Not only does it cheapen any other statements by these columnists, but it further muddies the already murky waters of public discourse.

The role of journalism is not to serve as a tool of the government's policy-making agencies. It is not to act as a microphone for the State Department or the Department of Education or any other government body. (That is what public relations is for.) It is ironic, as Diaz notes, that the rabid anti-Castro crowd is happy to support the elements within the US government that most resemble those of the Castro regime - disinformation campaigns, government control over the media and the like - when they feel it serves their interests. Good for The Miami Herald for refusing to cave into such irrational sentiment.

(Here's a related article from The Hartford Courant, which recently announced that its Washington bureau chief would no longer appear on Voice of America, which is operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.)



Over at Media Matters, which is the new home of Altercation, Eric Alterman is back in top form. This past Friday, he posted a link to this essay of his, which links the aforementioned Radio Martí with Kenneth Tomlinson via the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, in addition to Radio Martí. Ken Tomlinson is a controversial figure in journalism, known for calling secret investigations of "anti-Bush" and "anti-DeLay" political bias in Now with Bill Moyers and other highly partisan activities during his time in as the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He's in the news again, this time with allegations of corruption while serving as the chairman of the BBG. He is accused of paying nearly a quarter of a million dollars in public funds for to one man for undocumented work (I imagine he might be one of the lobbyists mentioned in this article), as well as operating his side business - a stable of thoroughbred horses - from his office with the BBG.

It's a sad, and not just a little alarming, state of affairs when a man such as Tomlinson, who is so clearly unfit to hold any sort of job in the public (or really, any) arena, can be allowed to maintain his considerable amount of power, simply because he is a major supporter of the Republican Party.



The major news at PressThink is that Reuters gave Rosen's new "open-source journalism" project, NewAssignment.Net, enough funding to allow them to a full-time editor. He calls it pro-am journalism, where the skills and the expertise of professional journalists can combine with the specialized knowledge of "amateurs", or non-journalists. As an example, he cites a blogger at TPM Cafe who matched her expertise as an accountant with an assignment provided by the Sunlight Foundation , a non-partisan group whose work is:

committed to helping citizens, journalists and bloggers be their own best watchdogs, both by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to pool our intelligence in new, and yet to be imagined, ways.

The blogger utilized the internet, her own specialized knowledge, and an "assignment" to produce a remarkable piece of investigative work, in which she ferrets out a million-dollar-plus pork-barrel project set up by a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and involves members of the Democratic Party. (In a later post, though, this blogger complains that the Sunlight Foundation is creating an inherently biased platform by focusing on relatively small potatoes like Health and Human Services and ignoring the big spenders that are rife with corruption, like defense and homeland security, something which I think should definitely be addressed.) A lot of the corruption in within the government depends on the perceived inability of the media and the citizenry to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and internet-savvy projects like the Sunlight Foundation and NewAssignment.Net make it that much easier to keep track of what politicians are doing with public funds.


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