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"Seek the truth and report it."

  • Oct 21, 2009
It is death by a thousand cuts.  Slowly but surely, year by year, the kind of aggressive and unbiased journalism that generations of Americans have come to rely upon to help decide public policy matters and to assist them in electing public officials has been disappearing.  These trends have been quite troubling to Alex S. Jones.  What is even more disturbing is that a significant number of Americans don’t even seem to care. Alex Jones is an award-winning journalist whose family has been in the newspaper business for four generations. He is also Director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. In his new 2009 book “Losing The News: The Future of The News That Feeds Democracy” Jones argues for a return to the exacting journalistic standards of the past. The book examines the sorry state of the media in America and the reasons the author feels that things have gone awry.
I found that one of the most salient points made in “Losing The News” was that even in their heyday “hard” or “accountability” news really only accounted for about 15% of the content in a daily newspaper. I guess here has always been lots of “fluff” in newspapers. This surprised me as I was under the impression that the percentage of hard news would have been somewhat higher in years gone by.  “Accountabilty” news can be defined as coverage of local city council and school board meetings, the state legislature and Congress and the Administration in Washington. As is the case today, the balance of the newspaper consisted of such “soft” news items as sports, comics, advice columns as well as display advertising from both local and national companies and of course the highly profitable classified ads. The reality was that the revenue generated by the rest of the paper essentially subsidized the newsroom. It was a formula that worked to perfection for decades. But hard economic times have befallen many news organizations. Newspapers and broadcast media have had to slash their budgets. Many veteran reporters have been let go and as a result of these draconian cuts newsrooms have been forced to make do with a lot less people. There are now far fewer people “watching the henhouse” as illustrated by New York Times reporter David Carr’s remarks on page 176 of  “Losing The News”Carr observes that due to drastic cuts at the Newark Star-Ledger “New Jersey, a petri dish of corruption, will have to make due with 40% fewer reporters at the Star-Ledger, one of the few remaining cops on the beat”.   The implications of this sorry state of affairs for taxpayers cannot be understated. 
The way that news is reported became much more muddled with the introduction of cable news in the 1980’s and the emergence of the internet in the 1990’s. Given the feverish competition between all of these news outlets the desire to be first has become the primary concern of many of them. Many of today’s so-called “reporters” fail to verify the accuracy of their information or vet their sources resulting in lots and lots of inaccuracy in the news. Likewise, many reporters feel compelled to insert their own views into the story and editors are allowing them to get away with it. Throughout the pages of “Losing The News” Jones acknowledges the monumental challenges facing news organizations today.  At the same time he chides many of these same outlets for practices he considers to be “unprofessional”.  Meanwhile, Alex Jones advocates vigorously for a return to the more stringent journalistic standards of the past. Jones is a firm believer in the proposition that “the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”  Count him an ardent supporter of The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Among other things this organization believes:  1)   Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth2)   Its first loyalty is to citizens and  3)  Its essence is a discipline of verification                   

The release of “Losing The News: The Future of The News That Feeds Democracy” comes at a time when distrust of the media is widespread and freedom of speech is under attack from many quarters.  Although a bit dry at times,  Alex Jones has written a book that will get you up to speed on these very important  issues.     Highly recommended.
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January 28, 2010
Great review. I placed the book on hold at my local library. I understand advocating for more stringent journalistic standards, but how do you fight against the current economic incentives, which lean away from higher journalistic standards and towards sensationalism?
December 15, 2009
Woody Allen once posed an interesting question on the democratization of anything... "What would happen if everyone enrolled in assertiveness training?" Chaos immediately comes to mind and parallels the unparalleled growth and influence of the Blogosphere... literally everyone is a "journalist" or pundit creating an avalanche of information with literally no time or objective means to evaluate its veracity. Where have you gone Lou Grant?!
November 05, 2009
Between CNN, MSNBC, and FOXNEWS I find that news is not "news" but entertainment slanted to the views of the particular networks and many times inventing stories when there is nothing there to be controversial and garner ratings. I miss the days when News was to describe something important that happened with a lot less editorial. I think it should be up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Great job as always!
October 23, 2009
Distrust of the media is widespread, because the media has lost its purpose of reporting objectively and investigating with depth. It has become a mouthpiece for the media owners' and reporters' political views. How many times in recent history has the media, even the NY Times, reported what they claimed was fact, but was really made up and false, to promote a political cause or party. We citizens must search for objective reporting of the news, which means seeking news that isn't a mouthpiece for a political party.
October 23, 2009
Thanks for your comments. I could not have said it better.
October 21, 2009
Thought-provoking review, Paul. Broadcast news and broadcasting in general is DOA..definitely gone as we knew it. Just look at the Today Show...what a wonderful program that used to be.......hard news for at least an hour in the morning ....now......soft ball features that aren't even interesting, like Maria Shirver's A Women's Nation......how patronizing can you get! What little news that is offered us is often inaccuate. Just think of all the news that's out there, international included, and we hear so little of it because the media is more interested in trailing a boy in a balloon or the misadventures of Paris HIlton than covering the important stories such as the number of souls that were recently killed in Pakistan. I think the whole thing will get worse before it gets better- if it ever does.....too much money to be made. I'd like to read more on this book and will look it up. Kudos to you for writing this!
October 21, 2009
Donna.... There are so many potential Pulitzer prizes out there it seems that there aren't any reporters who are the least bit interested in pursuing them. It's a darn shame!
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Description What is wrong with the news?
To answer this dismaying question, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex S. Jones explores how the epochal changes sweeping the media have eroded the core news that has been the essential food supply of our democracy.
At a time of dazzling technological innovation, Jones says that what stands to be lost is the fact-based reporting that serves as a watchdog over government, holds the powerful accountable, and gives citizens what they need. In a tumultuous new media era, with cutthroat competition and panic over profits, the commitment of the traditional news media to serious news is fading. Should we lose a critical mass of this news, our democracy will weaken--and possibly even begin to fail.
The breathtaking possibilities that the web offers are undeniable, but at what cost? The shattering of the old economic model is taking a toll on journalistic values and standards. Journalistic objectivity and ethics are under assault, as is the bastion of the First Amendment. Pundits and talk show hosts have persuaded Americans that the crisis in news is bias and partisanship. Not so, says Jones. The real crisis is the erosion of the iron core of "accountability" news, a loss that hurts Republicans and Democrats alike.
Losing the News is a vivid depiction of the dangers facing fact-based, reported news, but it is also a call to arms. Despite the current crisis, there are many hopeful signs, and Jones closes by looking over the ...
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ISBN-10: 0195181239
ISBN-13: 978-0195181234
Author: Alex S. Jones
Genre: Media & Politics
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Date Published: September 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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