Funding In-Depth, Investigative Reporting as a “Charitable Matter”??

It’s being talked about, according to Bruce Shapiro…on Radio Australia!!

I listen every *morning via shortwave radio to “Late Night Live” with Phllip Adams which features “ideas and opinions from around the world.” It is the best talk radio I have ever listened to.  Some reasons why from part of Adams’ ABC bio:

Phillip Adams is a prolific and sometimes controversial broadcaster, writer and film-maker. As presenter of Late Night Live, he has interviewed thousands of the world’s most influential politicians, historians, archaeologists, novelists, theologians, economists, philosophers and sundry conversationalists. ‘It’s a privilege to present Late Night Live,’ he says. ‘No radio program, anywhere on earth, casts a wider net.’ Phillip’s laid-back approach has become a trade-mark for Late Night Live, as has his humour, curiosity, his ability to flesh out rare insights from his guests, and his amazing store of anecdotal knowledge.

Largely self-educated (he left school in his mid-teens) he’s the author of over 20 books, including The Unspeakable Adams, Adams Versus God, Talkback, Retreat From Tolerance and A Billion Voices. His writing has appeared in many of Australia’s most influential publications and he has been a contributor to The Times and The Financial Times in London, and to the New York Times.

And that’s just part of his resume…

The guest on July 29 was Bruce Shapiro. Shapiro is a contributing editor at The Nation and correspondent for Salon as well as the Executive Director of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington.

Shapiro began his career on the fertile journalistic and political terrain of Chicago in the 1970s, and was a founding editor of the radical magazine Haymarket. He’s been the director of The Nation Institute’s Supreme Court Watch, a civil liberties watchdog; teaches investigative journalism at Yale University and, as co-convenor of the Dart Foundation Fellowship in Trauma and Journalism, is leading efforts to reform news reporting on violence.

He also co-authored a book with Jesse Jackson entitled “Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America’s Future” in 2001 and, in 2003, published “Shaking the Foundations: 200 Years of Investigative Journalism in America.”

Shapiro spent the full hour with Adams. If you listen to the show (Link to audio here), you’ll hear some of the usual Obama talk that we’re used.  See below for details…

Eventually, however,  the talk turned to the state of journalism with Adams noting the demise of the L. A. Times weekly book review magazine just this past week.  It was second only to the New York TImes book review in importance and now it’s gone.

This is where the conversation really got interesting.  The  talk turned to the future of high-quality journalism (Minute 36:00 on the audio).   Shapiro said that it’s been a “terrible couple of years” in the news business.  Many of Shapiro’s friend in the news business have left or are in “profound anxiety” about the possibility of losing their jobs. Debt, technology, and lowered ad revenues have created a period of “huge change” in the industry.

Shapiro thinks that, historically, “journalism has been an innovative craft,”  born out of 2 great innovations–technological innovation (the printing press) and political innovation (freedom of the press).  Without these two innovations, “you can’t have journalism.”

He remarked on how the news industry adapted during the 19th century but now he believes that “we are at the end of the 19th century industrial newsroom”  but there is “spectacular talent out there” and that “the decentralized vehicle of the web” will create new opportunities for journalism…and already has.

Adams brought up the problems we’re in now as the transition takes place, referring to the lack of seasoned journalists.  Shapiro talked about how there are no opportunities anymore in newrooms for up-and-coming reporters. He describes how the lack of financial resources has created a situation in which there are few journalists being sent to places like Iraq from large news organizations. Instead, “green” reporters are sent from their suburban beats…and it doesn’t help their careers because when they come back, they have no where else to go but back to reporting local news.  Shapiro also talked about the “dying breed” of old family-owned papers that have a commitment to serious journalism, like the owners of the Seattle Times, who continue to support one of the best investigative reporting teams in the country.

According to Shapiro, “this is a time of crisis in American news” and people are “suddenly” starting to ask these questions:

“Should we be doing news on a non-profit basis? Should we funding in-depth reporting as a charitable matter because it’s so important to civil society, like universities and hospitals?”

I have to admit that this idea really sounded appealing to me! Imagine, protecting journalism as an endangered species….

But the more I thought about it, the less I was convinced that this sort of arrangement could ever work!  (Considering how well protecting endangered species is going these days…) Who would set this sort of thing up? Who would fund it? A foundation?  What conflicts of interests would turn up involving the entities with the money? Which journalists would be funded and would they actually be allowed to really investigate without interference? Which stories would become off-limits or be squashed before being published? In short, WHO WOULD BE MAKING THE FINAL EDITORIAL DECISIONS?

Even if this were attempted and managed to overcome all the concerns I’ve stated, it probably wouldn’t be very long before things would begin to slip.  Because I have a feeling that the public would still clamor for infotainment rather than complicated reporting. And the big corporate media companies wouldn’t be threatened at all, and if they didn’t promote the work of the “charitable” news organizations, how could the audience for serious journalism grow beyond what it is now? In short, who would carry any stories that were written?

Just look at CSpan.  It was “given” to us by cable operators in exchange for less regulation and I recall a few years ago reading about how there was some talk about cutting the service back. A piece from The Columbia Journalism Review way back in 1997 describes the situation:

C-SPAN’s fight for respect

C-SPAN’s travails reflect its precarious status as a charitable gesture of an industry in perennial need of an image transplant. Cable operators dreamed it up as a legislator-friendly service in 1979. The industry, in fact, got most of its wish list granted in the regulation-lite Cable Act of 1984. But in 1992, reacting to consumer outrage over rates and service, Congress passed reregulating legislation, including “must-carry” requirements.

And CSpan does’t just turn on the cameras and let things unfold. It often takes on the same characteristics of mainstream media outlets. Rather than simply presenting events for the record, its hosts have cut off callers asking difficult questions.  They’ve even indulged in “falsehoods balancing the truth” a la FOX News.  (See CSpan on Trial.)  CSpan seem to hang out at the American Enterprise Institute or Heritage Foundation an awful lot.  PBS is another entity that is at the mercy of legislators and donations, and the meddling of the current Adminisration has really take its toll.  It’a a miracle that shows like Frontline still exist…

So, what are the chances of “charitable” entities really changing much of anything? And as things “devolve” to the web, will that help serious journalism get a much wider audience or will it be buried by even more sites devoted to partisan punditry?  I can tell you right now from experience, that posts offering a library of foreign links or posts with in-depth research on candidates’ ties get a lot fewer hits than snarky, opinionated rants on current happenings!


*My morning is Mountain Time, so Late Night Live streams on the web at 6 AM MT/8AM ET.


During the interview, Shapiro briefly recounted his experiences as a community organizer and how he decided to become a journalist. It was around the time that the old Daley machine was ‘breaking up.”  He didn’t offer any comments about the present Daley machine or any of people around Obama.  The conversation touched on many other political topics, however.   Shapiro commented on how Obama is “loved by the media” and how is is “incredibly deft and appealing, like JFK.”  He and the host were in awe of the Berlin crowds (I emailed Phillip Adams with the information about the rock bands involved–he replied, said he didn’t know about this, and requested more information.)   Shapiro waxed poetic about Obama’s use of race to foster unity rather than toward polarizing resentment.  I wondered if Shapiro’s Chicago connections were coloring some of his opinions.  He did, however, got down to brass tacks when Adams asked about “who owns Obama?”  He acknowledged Obama’s “deep, deep ties to Wall St., especially those involved in investment, like mutual funds.  Shapiro also at one point said that Hillary Clinton would have a chance for even more power than Ted Kennedy if she stayed in the Senate  and built her own power base.

More information on Bruce Shapiro:

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma

The Nation–Bruce Shapiro’s page with archives

5 Responses

  1. My comment to this post is related to an important distinction that I think has to be made with respect to print journalism and broadcast journalism. The difference is based on the difference in the medium each uses. Disregarding the notion that print allows more in depth coverage of a topic, generally, than broadcast (with the important exception of the documentary noted), the print media outlets are privately owned. The airwaves are public property. Entities RENT the right to use sections of the frequency spectrum. The job of the FCC is to make sure these entities make use of their allotted radiofrequencies in the interests of the public. The FCC, in my view, has failed miserably in its job of oversight.

    How does this make a difference between the written and spoken word? Print media outlets are dependent on hardcopy sales and advertisement revenue. Before the rise of broadcasting, people relied on print for news and entertainment, so owners could be less concerned about advertiser opinion with respect to content. This allowed the perception of journalistic integrity that, depending on the newspaper or magazine, became institutional history and tradition. This, of course, has changed dramatically in the last two decades.

    Broadcast media outlets do not have to sell their products to the end users, i.e., viewers and listeners, in order to generate revenue. Yes, programs are sold in syndication, but not news programs. Though ratings are used as a measure of success, people do not pay to watch television news or listen to radio news programs. Yes, they have to buy televisions and radios, but the broadcasters don’t get money from these sales–the electronics stores and companies get the money. Therefore, broadcast news has always been dependent on advertisers for revenue. This has not changed, but become more complicated with the rise of cable. The race for advertiser dollars is more intense, as the market is more crowded. This leads to a greater pursuit of higher ratings. Somehow the determination was made that sensational newsreporting garnered higher ratings, and the downward slide began. The broadcast media do not serve the public–they serve the advertisers.

  2. Incredible post GRL! It will take me several readings and much musing to take it all in.

    However near the end when you were talking about “Shapiro waxing poetic about Obama’s use of race to foster unity rather than toward polarizing resentment.” You wondered if Shapiro’s Chicago connections were coloring some of his opinions. I think that is obvious.

    How can anyone honestly say that Obama is “using race to foster unity”? It appears quite the contrary to me.

    I like the idea of Senator Clinton having a chance for more power than Ted Kennedy if she stays in the Senate and builds her own power base. If not in the White House, then in the Senate fighting for the things she believes in. For all of us. But especially for women. She knows how far we have to go.

  3. Note: I like to understate things sometimes…LOL!! It’s that “neutral observer” stance I sometimes take…even though I know damned well they guy is sounding like an Obama sycophant to my ears most of the time!!!!

  4. That’s cause you are a kinder, wiser PUMA than I GRL.

  5. Just maybe the lack of journalistic integrity might have something to do with the downfall of the press.
    The American people can not trust or believe what is written or shown on tv.
    The downfall of journalism is the first step toward facism..



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