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Months ago, my Quaker Meeting was promised full inclusion in a very novel newspaper project. The local esteemed daily, The Washington Post, wanted to showcase who we were and what we believed.  Or at least that’s what we were told.  In a sign of how far newspapers have fallen in recent years, an ambitious offer was routinely delayed and radically modified from month to month.  By the end, it appeared as though we were only being given the opportunity to provide the Post with copy for free and on its own terms.  We found ourselves disappointed and somewhat offended by the suggestion.

It would be easy for me to launch into a screed about the evils of old media.  The journalism classes I took in college were taught and sometimes peopled by highly principled columnists. But the departure of adequate streams of revenue produced an effect not unlike waiting nervously on board a sinking ship.  This religion project would have, I believe, in an earlier era been as elaborate and helpful as it had been originally pitched.  But the reporter assigned to it kept drastically modifying his deadline and exhaustively revamping the physical form it would take.  I’ll choose to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that I believe the Post simply doesn’t have the money for anything beyond the essentials these days.

Looking at an even broader picture, many groups, religious or non-religious, don’t do an adequate job of basic outreach.  This is why I was so excited to take part.  What I envisioned was a win-win situation for both of us.  We would be seen as real people, not an omnipresent face on a box of oatmeal, a perspective largely three centuries out of date.  They would have the ability to boost readership through such an expansive and novel approach.  But as I said, for whatever reason, the initial plan has been whittled down to something inexpensive and minimal, not especially aesthetically attractive to the reader, and benefitting more the publisher than the published.

I never thought I’d say this, but we may have reached a time where newspapers, at least, can no longer serve the public the way they used to do.  Complaining might as well be considered wasted energy.  Other forms of media have sprung up to replace an older model, but the fragmentation that comes with internet freedom doesn’t so much bring us together as it places us in our own boxes.  Finding pertinent information these days sometimes feels a bit like participating in a scavenger hunt.  It also reminds me of grad school, whereby I regularly had to make my way through a cavernous, moldy-smelling library in order to track down a pertinent, and often carelessly filed journal article.

This analogy can often suffice for many faith groups.  The Meeting upon which I was Convinced (converted), upon my first visit, provided me with a pamphlet for newcomers that was fifty years old. In speaking with a Friend from another region of the country, he was surprised that it was still being used, since the tract was considered well out of date by many.  Likewise, many of the news values I learned in Mass Communications 101 are simply no longer relevant.  Things are moving so quickly now that one wonders whether any textbook could keep up with the pace and not date as quickly as yesterday’s news.  Programming, software, and development have always proceeded at a lightning fast clip, and now that the media is tied closely to technology, expect the same dizzying tempo.        

I won’t begin to say I know how new media ought to centralize itself or how old media ought to respond to its increasing obsolescence.  I will say, however, that we all need a crash course in 21st Century trends, regardless of our age.  The problems I see around me, no matter whether they’re present in a storefront business or a house of worship are often that 20th Century strategies are still being used to address 21st Century challenges.  Familiarity has its place in other aspects of our lives, but after a while, morning coffee while reading the paper in print form will be a ritual consigned to a museum or a fond memory.  Unless faith groups can address the concerns of a new age, their circulation numbers will also fall off dramatically.  I’m not arguing for total compromise, rather I’m advancing a very radical notion that both ought to speak truthfully.  Today’s audience can forgive almost everything, except lies.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, jgilhousen, commonmass

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 06:16:02 AM PDT

  •  Press is Functioning As Bill of Rights is Designed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass

    for them to operate, and as they always did operate, except for the New Deal Anomaly period. They've steered elections by character assassination and fraudulent endorsements, interfered with trials, created astroturf issue movements and goaded us into war, over our entire history.

    They're corporations; press freedom is a specifically corporate freedom of an activity not usually done by human beings; and government is barred from interfering with their promotion of their interests and agendas and fighting those of the people, the nation and humanity.

    If we had an amendment forbidding infringement of Freedom of the Used Car Dealers everybody would understand what to expect. I continue to be mystified at our surprise that Constitutionally-liberated information corporations act the way any other kind of liberated corporation would act.

    In the New Deal Anomaly broadcast was newly invented, and the nature of the medium was that only a few stations could operate in any locality. There couldn't be an unlimited number of broadcasters and choices for the people as there could be newspapers.

    For that reason space was licensed, and following the logic of other anti trust regulation, ownership was kept small and media monopolies were prevented or limited. There was also imposed a public service requirement. Stations had to collect community input over the months before their frequent license renewals and submit it with the re-application.

    In order to maximize earnings from their lucrative entertainment programming, and minimize the pressure to shape it for the public interest, broadcasters offered journalistic news as their public service. As Thom Hartmann who was broadcasting back in that era explains, almost every outlet had news departments and local reporters. If you look up the History Channel's program of 2- or 4-hour footage from the days around JFK's assassination, which contains not a syllable of modern content other than a few screen captions, the quality of reporters and even news directors blew away today's top mainstream journalists and anchors. The quality is really jaw dropping.

    Since broadcast took away print's ability to compete on breaking stories, it turned to investigative journalism to compete, being able to devote more time and depth than broadcast could do.

    That period is the closest that our disastrously primitive press freedom formulation ever came to the kind of press the framers insisted our system requires to produce and support an informed electorate. I don't know if restoration of those regs would put the demons back into Pandora's box in our time. For my money an entirely new formulation of government and society's relationship to communication and information is needed, a substantially greater revolution than the design of the rest of the Constitution was in its time.

    The only scheme that ever worked in human history is the checks-and-balances scheme where power --EVERY kind of power-- is prevented from acting too strongly, too quickly or too broadly for society and reason to be overcome. That's one principle to start from.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 06:55:38 AM PDT

  •  If you were preaching hate, you'd be (0+ / 0-)

    on the front page.

    Capitalism may be our enemy, but it is also our teacher. --V.I. Lenin equalitymaine.org

    by commonmass on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 07:50:48 AM PDT

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