James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘auto industry’

Maybe Big Media should get next bailout

Posted by James McPherson on December 9, 2008

It worked for the banks, and now apparently for auto makers (who may have become too accustomed to long-term financing, since they may be viewing the expected bailout as merely a down payment). Maybe Big Media should be the next poorly run industry in line for a government handout.

In what the Huffington Post termed “Media Meltdown Monday,” the New York Times, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, among others) and NBC all announced bad news yesterday.

That news came just days after the Scripps Company announced that its Rocky Mountain Newswas up for sale–or, as RMN writer Mike Littwin put it, “read: doomed“–and on the heels of announcements from newspapers all over the country that they were for sale and/or cutting back on people, production and public service (OK, I added the last part). “The Newshour” on PBS devoted a segment to the Tribune case and related issues last night, and offers a series of online videos about various aspects of the media crisis.

Piling on, today the New York Times’ Stuart Elliot writes–in a story bluntly headlined “Next Year is Looking Even Worse,” that “advertising is bracing for the possibility of the first two consecutive yearly declines in spending since the early days of the Great Depression.” And in the last line of its story about the Tribune Company, Columbia Journalism Review offers this dire warning: “Think the news has been bad for the industry in the last couple of years? The real blood-letting is about to begin.”

Just months after buying the LA Times (despite the fact that many regular watchers of CNBC–or of HGTV–could have pointed out that California property values were overinflated) the Tribune Company is filing for bankruptcy. Perhaps the Illinois governor should have been more worried about the company’s board of directors than about its editorial board.

Of the news organizations now suffering, the Tribune Company is perhaps the toughest of the group to feel sorry for, thanks to owner Sam Zell, “the newspaper mogul who despises journalism, the real estate tycoon who once told the Tribune’s Washington staff they were so much ‘overhead,’ the self-proclaimed Viagra of the industry whose ‘innovation’ guru he brought in from the radio world didn’t understand that L.A. Times reporters in Iraq were actually reporting from Iraq … In less than a year’s time, Zell took the Tribune private and then took the company to bankruptcy. That has to be some kind of record.”

Still, some of us remember that the conservative Chicago Tribune was doing meaningful investigative journalism before most other news organizations, regularly uncovering governmental abuses of the type now being reported about Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Of course, some might argue that finding corruption in Chicago is about as difficult as finding Easter eggs on the White House lawn during the annual hunt, but the same probably is true of most major cities–it’s just that most newspapers don’t work as hard to uncover the abuses as the Tribune once did.

The fact is, most newspapers don’t have enough staffers to do the most important things that journalists should do: keep an eye on government. Jennifer Dorroh, managing editor of American Journalism Review, recently pointed out that local reporters of the type who uncovered the corruption of California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham are an “endangered species.”

There is another major reason for journalists and those of us who train journalists to be worried about the Trib’s collapse. Besides the harm that bankruptcy judges or others might do to the newspaper or to journalism, Littwin notes, “Apparently it’s hard to gloat and work on your resume at the same time.”

Even more troubling for most people who care about good journalism might be the news about the problems of the New York Times. Today the Times offers an Associate Press story about its talks with lenders, though the headline for that story is far less noticeable than the headline (with photo) about Christie Hefner resigning from her position as Playboy CEO.

As for NBC, it announced this week that it may cut back on programming (what, Fox got all the good reality shows?) and that late-night host Jay Lenowould be doing a five-nights-a-week 10 p.m. program. Interestingly, the MSNBC Web site went with the Associated Press reports for both stories about Leno (too many commentators, not enough reporters at the network?). As the report notes, “A talk show is considerably cheaper to produce than the dramas that usually air at 10 p.m.”

So maybe news organizations need to take the same step that GM has: announce that they’ve done a poor job of providing what consumers need, apologize for their mistakes, and beg for government help. As much as those organizations have sucked up to government in recent years, instead of investigating official misconduct (so what’s Judith Miller up to, nowadays?), perhaps they’d even get the bailout.

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The 3 E’s: education, economics and ethics

Posted by James McPherson on December 4, 2008

The lead news today continues to be about a possible government bailout of the Big Three auto makers, but frankly this week I’m more concerned about the long-term costs of another impending disaster for the U.S. economy.

Unless we fix some serious problems with our educational system, we won’t have people smart enough to design the cars of the future, or with jobs good enough to be able to afford those cars. And unless we start to pay some attention to how ethics in government, business and elsewhere are being internalized by our children (who, as George W. Bush would say, “is learning,” inside the classroom and out), we won’t be able to trust anything made or sold by an American graduate, anyway.

Though I teach at a highly ranked institution that boasts the smartest and most ethical students I’ve ever worked with, this has been a troubling week for news related to higher education. Tuition costs continue to rise, to the point where a study reported in yesterday’s New York Times predicts that college education may soon be unaffordable for those from the middle class (or what little remains of it) and below. Harvard, the school whose graduates we all most resent while we wish our own kids could get in there, saw its endowment drop by 22 percent in the first four months of the school year.

Maybe they can steal the tuition money. Another survey released this week shows that most high school students cheat–and about a third say they have stolen something from a store within the past year. Less surprising, is that more than 80 percent of public school and private religious schools admit lying to their parents about “something significant,” which prompts me to suspect that at least 10 percent lied about lying.

More troubling is that more than 90 percent of students surveyed reported being satisfied with their personal ethics (they may lie, cheat and steal, but they’re OK with it), with 59 percent agreeing that “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”

And then there’s this bit of trash: A supposed journalism student writing for “The Daily Beast” about her “sugar daddy” relationship. which she euphemistically calls “maybe even the distant cousin of—dare I say it?—prostitution.” (Yes, you may call it what it is.) She does offer a bit of good news for the reeling auto industry: “And the company car I drive costs him around $700 a month for the lease and the insurance.” She writes–as if she knows–that when the relationship is over, “I will part with a lifelong friend [Yeah, right; I see him on future guest list for her future wedding], a great career, and a killer wardrobe.”

Part of her justification is that “truth be told, women have used their wiles and charms to get ahead for years.” Perhaps. Students have also cheated for years (and with that in mind, maybe this “journalism student” is just spinning a provocative tale), and Americans in various business and government sectors have been ignoring negative economic indicators for years.

But as Dr. Phil might say, were he treating the nation as a sobbing, overweight, somewhat dim TV “client”: “How’s that working for you?

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »