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Musing the News

Sarah Noonan, Intern

In the aftermath of Walter Cronkite’s passing, fellow reporters and everyday citizens have expounded on the ways Cronkite inspired them.  The coverage of Walter Cronkite’s impact has made me optimistic that our world still values sharing information in trying to achieve peace and prosperity. Often this type of dialogue is replaced by tabloid stories (like Jon and Kate Gosselin’s marital struggles) and sometimes I fear it will disappear completely.

Alex Jones, author of Losing the News: The Future of The News That Feeds Democracy, writes in his new book that quality journalism, or what he refers to as the “iron core” of news, has played a role in shaping democracy. In an era when the iron core of news is more expensive to produce than blogs and infotainment, it is in jeopardy of extinction, and our democracy is in danger as well. In this excerpt, Jones writes that it’s up to us to maintain the news that we value.

So how can the news be saved? Journalists must hold fast and persevere. Owners must do the right thing. And citizens and news consumers must notice and demand the news that they need. We may be headed for a world in which there is a huge disparity in accurate knowledge just as there is in wealth. The elite will be deeply informed, and there will be a huge difference between what they know and what most other Americans know. We could be heading for a well-informed class at the top and a broad populace awash in opinion, spin, and propaganda. The Obama campaign demonstrated that politicians don’t really need to go through the filter of the news media to win power, and it is sure to be a lesson that others learn well. Indeed, the Bush administration pioneered the concept. Ron Suskind, a celebrated journalist, put his finger on this line of thinking in an article in the New York Times Magazine. He recounted how the Bush administration had not liked an article he had written, so he met with a senior advisor to President Bush, who expressed the White House’s displeasure. The aide told Suskind that journalists were “in what we call the reality-based community, which the aide defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality.” Suskind began to respond that that was the essential point of journalism, and the aide abruptly cut him off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to study just what we do.”

America has been a place where difference in knowledge – like difference in wealth – was not a yawning chasm and where a “reality-based” press was, for all its shortcomings, premised on the belief that reality is something all Americans should know about. A successful news media that does its job for all the nation’s citizens is the engine for the news that nourishes democracy. To demand that news organizations perform this service is a part of the legacy of American democracy as much as are the principles of tolerance and the pursuit of happiness. If the iron core should gradually rust away, Americans will have squandered part of their birthright. Surely we will not allow that to happen.

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