Photo title: "Verifying dictation." Image by mpujals via FlickrA 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
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.
In other words, unless the PUC is interested, the newspaper isn't interested.
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.
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.