Even though I currently have no pot to piss in, I am very, very glad I did not make use of my journalism degree and become a journalist. I would have been a terrible journalist. For one thing, I'm not interested in the daily dispersal of facts. I don't think immediate facts are a bridge to the truth. I think you can get a lot closer to the truth from immediate lies, jokes, and art than you can from isolated facts. A really good sandwich (or a really bad one) can give me more truth than a network newscast or New York Times article. Historical facts, while just as meaningless if presented out of context, can at least provide some understanding of current political and social situations by giving us the chain of events, the contexts, the known reasons how and maybe why things are happening the way they are, both in this country and everywhere else, but our current television and newspaper journalists have no interest in historical facts. Most of us in this country know fuck-all about foreign policy, politics, and history. I include myself in this condemnation. I am an idiot in this subject. While I am partially responsible for my own ignorance, the mainstream United States media does a horrible job of keeping its citizens informed. All we get is a vague, muddled "what" without any "how" or "why." The past is creepily ignored at all costs. What happened yesterday might as well have never happened at all. Immediacy slays understanding. No context is supplied. No cause is explained. Nothing exists but effect. Stories that are irrelevant to the populace at large but push emotional buttons siphon coverage from important stories. Natalee Holloway's disappearance, Michael Jackson's trial, Russian submariners. These stories are unimportant as news. They mean a lot to the handful of people directly affected, but for the rest of us, they function at the same level as a sentimental Hollywood tearjerker. Our newspapers are woefully inadequate, but at least we can skip the most egregious articles and advertisements. Television news is an abomination. We get the day's murders, assaults, and car accidents (again, irrelevant as "news"), a brief, shallow dip into local politics, an even briefer, shallower dip into national and world events, a bunch of weather, some sports highlights, and whatever animal baby was born in a zoo that day. It's appalling. Telling us about a car bomb in Iraq or a shooting in Israel tells us nothing about those countries or their conflicts. We're being read a random page from a different novel every day and it means nothing. Business and advertising values have irreversibly corrupted our news outlets. Our local Fox outlet doesn't even hide its taintedness. Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which also owns 20th Century Fox film studios. Each day on the local news, there is a behind-the-scenes "story" about some new 20th Century Fox movie. Shameless. Once a news outlet presents advertising as news, it can never be trusted again. This is a basic tenet of journalism school. It is unethical in journalism to let the advertising infect the reporting. Why do television news stations get away with this daily? My rant so far is not very original or topical. This is obvious, old, artless stuff. I am beating a dead horse. What's the solution? We probably all need to be more vigilant about seeking out information instead of letting it come to us, and there are many good and great journalists and depth and investigative reporters writing for good and great magazines, but why are newspapers and television news broadcasts so awful and what can we do about it?
H.W. Ross founded The New Yorker magazine. He was worried about advertising infecting news and editorial content back in 1926. This is from a letter to publisher Raoul Fleischmann that year:
"I think it essential that all members of the advertising staff be tactfully but firmly taught that they are in no way to have direct contact with the members of the editorial staff or with me...
...Unless stern measures are taken my present efforts to keep the editorial department independent, uninfluenced, honest and - more important than all - slightly aloof, will be more or less defeated..."
Reading: Agee On Film by James Agee