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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Newspaper stenographer shows why newspapers are collapsing

Verifying DictationPhoto title: "Verifying dictation." Image by mpujals via Flickr

A story in today's Salem SJ that was meant to give readers a glimpse into how newspapers decide "What is news?" has succeeded far beyond its likely intentions by inadvertently pointing out that, for the corporate-owned press, the critical factor -- the thing that separates a tip from a potential crank and a 'real story' is whether or not the stenographer ... er, reporter ... can find an official source to say something:

The Statesman Journal's interest in Portland General Electric's digital "smart meters" started with a tip from a reader, who blamed a higher-than-expected electric bill on PGE's new, high-tech meters.

Like any allegation, the reader's tip had to be handled with care. Many tips are too flimsy to generate a story, the basic premise and facts are wrong, or they are someone's opinion.

A call to the Oregon Public Utility Commission confirmed that the state agency had taken similar ratepayer complaints about PGE's smart meters.

The number of complaints wasn't large. What made the issue worth a story was the PUC's decision to take a closer look at smart meters and run tests comparing them to the old-style mechanical meters.
In other words, unless the PUC is interested, the newspaper isn't interested.

That perfectly sums up the collapsed state of newspapers today, institutions that once prided themselves on taking nothing on faith now running stories that prove, in their own words, that "reporting" now consists of little more than calling a government official for comment.

If you ever wondered, to take just one of millions of possible examples, how the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors were able to inflate colossal bubbles and plunder the world's largest economy without triggering the "watchdogs in the press," now you should understand.

The government at all levels includes a healthy number of people whose primary purpose is to advance the interests of the industry whence they came and plan to return to -- these are the people who answer the calls from the intrepid stenographers of the Fourth Estate and who dutifully parrot the industry line on every matter, thus waving the "reporters" off any stories that industry would prefer not be covered.

UPDATE: an excerpt with a link to this post was removed from the SJ's online comments to the original piece.
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March 6: "Our Broken Immigration System: a Civil Conversation"

Our Broken Immigration System:
a Forum to Share Perspectives in a Civil Conversation

Saturday, March 6, 8:30 a.m. –12:30 p.m.
First Congregational United Church of Christ,
700 Marion Street NE, Salem, Oregon (corner of Marion and Cottage Streets)
1st Cong. Office Contact: 503-363-3660

Come join in as we learn and discuss demographic, economic, educational and legal aspects of immigration reform.

Kevin Finney, Forum Moderator
Public Policy Director, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon

Speakers
  • Bob Bussell, Director of the Labor Education &Research Center, U. of Oregon
  • Kurt Muntz and Barbara Ghio, Immigration Attorneys, Salem
  • Rebecca Ralston, Bilingual Classroom Teacher, Central Unified School District