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 ‘Poynter Institute’

NPR asks, ‘Where are the women — at NPR?’

Posted by James McPherson on April 7, 2010

“When it comes to female voices from outside NPR, the network is not as diverse on air as it would like to think. NPR needs to try harder to find more female sources and commentators.”

Those words come from a piece by National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard (and highlighted today by Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore), who also points out that, to the network’s credit, that NPR “has been an industry leader with female correspondents and hosts. Three out of the five hosts of its biggest shows — Morning Edition and All Things Considered — are women. The CEO and the head of the news department are women, as are many other top executives throughout the company.”

The study conducted by Shepard and two NPR interns came up with a number of interesting statistics and graphs, which I encourage you to check out (one graph can be found below). And all that at a news organization which is doing a better job in terms of gender balance than perhaps any other national organization.

The article manages to demonstrate the value of both NPR and of ombudmen, which far too few news organizations are have the courage to employ–part of the reason that the media have such low credibility ratings.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Blogosphere and loathing in academia: To blog or not to blog

Posted by James McPherson on April 20, 2009

I created this blog it to try to reach students in a new way while learning some new technological skills and sharing information about two subjects in which I have some expertise. This Wednesday will be the one-year anniversary of the day I started blogging. It also may be my last day.

The blog has proven to be a valuable method for saving Internet links and ideas that I use in teaching and other writing, and to help students (and at least a few professionals) access some useful tools. I’ve been able to share a lot of information and some skills achieved through this experiment that I, and therefore my students, might not otherwise have picked up. An unexpected side benefit is that it actually seemed to boost my credibility–my “cool factor,” as one student put it–with some of those students.

All in all, my year of blogging has been a great experience–interesting, useful and usually fun. I would recommend it to about any teacher, in any academic discipline (though posting weekly might be more rational than my almost-daily approach).

But I’ve decided to step away from regular blogging, and this seems like a logical time. Tomorrow I’ll offer more details about why I’m quitting–or at least cutting back considerably–and Wednesday I’ll offer a list of my previous favorites, in case you want to check out any you’ve missed. Today I’ll note some of the things I’ve most appreciated about doing this.

Though I’ve tried to make the vast majority of my posts about media and politics rather than about me, please forgive this departure into the personal. Feel free to skip this post (and tomorrow’s), but if you’re a fellow academic or media professional interested in some of the reasons you may or may not want to actively participate in the blogosphere, you may want to read on.

After spending a few days at a Poynter Institute workshop and talking to some other professors and journalists about the idea, I wrote my first blog post (a prediction of success for Barack Obama and potential problems for John McCain) last April. But I’ve decided that one year (and more than 300 posts) is enough. And though I’ve been thinking about it for some time (and mentioned it in passing here a couple of weeks ago), my decision caught even my wife by surprise.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I never use her name. She actually appreciates a level of anonymity on the Web and elsewhere, as difficult as that may be to believe in this viral, egocentric, Twitterific, in-your-Facebook, screw-YouTube, blogtastic culture.

Like me, my wife has mixed emotions about my decision to step away from the biosphere… er, blogosphere (and no, the two are not synonymous). She’s happy that I’ll be a bit less compulsive about doing this (and of course will believe it when she sees it), but a bit disappointed that I won’t be sharing my ideas (most of which she likes) so regularly. At least I think that was the mixture of her emotions, and not the other way around–that she’s glad not to feel obligated to read so much of what I write, but unhappy that I may have more free time with her.

Her surprise at my decision came because she knew that I wasn’t bored with or burned out from blogging. In fact,  in some respects it energizes me. I feel more connected with the professional worlds of media and politics, and in some ways more connected with my students.

I’m not stopping because I dislike the writing. Like George Orwell and many others, I knew early in life that I would be a writer, and I love to write in varied ways. My published works include a couple of books, several book chapters, and articles in academic journals, newspapers and magazines. As-yet-unpublished works include a book of short fiction and a partially finished novel.

I love how words work, what Orwell called “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another.” I amuse myself, if not others, with a creative headline or turn of phrase (I hope you didn’t need to read the first five words of today’s headline out loud to get it), giving proof to Orwell’s statement, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Though I’d been warned about “trolls” and other crazies who might find me, and some did, but I’ve never worried much about criticism and frankly I’ve greatly enjoyed most of my interactions with people here (and on other people’s blogs). I take pride in the fact that even when I know I’ll offend people, I try to do it in a thoughtful way that encourages dialogue rather than closing it off. I try to do the same elsewhere, as well: At least one conservative blogger has me linked as the one liberal alternative on his site, as a result of our online discussions.

Via this blog I’ve “met” students who have never taken one of my classes, and have engaged in “discussions” with a number of professional journalists as well as with other bloggers. I’ve been enriched by all those who comment, and am especially grateful for the regulars such as Gabrielle, Luis, Zelda, Grady and Mike (at least two of whom disagree with me more often than they agree).

A few people have been very offended, of course. Blatantly stupid or offensive remarks have come from both conservatives and liberals. At least one parent of a college student has suggested that I be fired from my job as a professor–but the reaction he received from other readers who came to my defense was one of the highlights of my blogging experience.

The professional and student connections I made quickly helped me overcome some fears that blogging might somehow detract from my teaching. I don’t personally know many other faculty bloggers, and though there are some out there this is not a well-tested pedagogical approach.

I did have someone ask me how this might affect my future promotion possibilities, especially since my opinions often run counter to those of many  administrators, donors, students and parents associated with the institution where I teach. My wife chuckled at that question (which she wasn’t surprised that I hadn’t even considered), remembering what she used to call my “continuing efforts to avoid tenure.”

After all, since long before I started blogging I’ve been writing strong opinions in local newspapers, participating in political panel discussions, and joining political protests. More recently, I wore a black armband daily for several weeks to protest and mourn the Iraq War.

Along with a variety of media history artifacts, my office is decorated with items such as a large “No War” yard sign, a poster showing the 1963 March on Washington, a large 48-star American flag, a poster of a controversial Artis Lane lithograph of the Statue of Liberty, a stuffed “George W. Bush pants-on-fire doll,” and a framed copy of the 1979 “H-bomb” issue of the Progressive that led to what should have been a key First Amendment case. (I say “should have been,” because by the time the case was decided, as I’ve noted in both my first and second books, the mainstream media had mostly  given up engaging in the sorts of activities that the First Amendment was designed to protect.)

I do think that the fact that I have been tenured and promoted, and that this blog has actually been mentioned in the university’s alumni magazine, speaks well for the administration and the values of my institution–which a couple of years ago granted me one of its highest teaching awards. Yet most of my students disagree with me politically (further reflecting the idiocy of the “indoctrination” arguments made by David Horowitz and others like him), and those who disagree with me most strenuously tend to be among the students I tend to like most (yes, like parents, teachers have their favorites, and like parents we try to hide it).

I also am not ceasing blogging because I’m in danger of running out of ideas. I typically have parts of more than a dozen drafts under way. Some entries I quickly write and posted on one sitting. Others (including this one) I work on half a dozen times over a space of days or weeks before posting. Some I never finished, and they were eventually discarded or just forgotten in my “drafts” bin. Others I went back to after extended periods of thought or after an event suddenly makes them seem more timely.

So there are some of the reasons why I have reservations about stepping away from this year-long educational exercise. Tomorrow’s post will explain why it is time to do so.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Gadgets create more ‘reporters’–and fewer journalists?

Posted by James McPherson on January 7, 2009

Skype, netbook computers, mobile communication devices and other electronic devices make it increasingly easy for anyone to become an on-the-scene reporter. Regardless of the economy, people apparently aren’t going to give up their gadgets–at least until there’s no power to run them–which in may both help and harm journalism.

Poynter’s Al Tompkins, a broadcast & multimedia expert who last year led a workshop that prompted me to start this blog, writes today about a TV reporters using a laptop, a Blackberry and Skype to report from the scene of the college football championship game.

“She didn’t have a big live truck accompanying her, or an engineer tuning in a shot or a photojournalist standing behind the camera and setting up lights,” Tompkins writes. “[The reporter] set up her own camera, opened her laptop, connected the camera to her computer, slipped a wireless connection card into her laptop, called up Skype and used her Blackberry to establish IFB (the device TV folks wear in their ears to hear the off-air signal). It all looked just great on air.”

Spokane television stations have been going nuts with Skype lately, mostly to show how much snow and ice are on area streets as they encourage the rest of us to stay home (which most have for long periods, since we’ve already had 77 inches of snow, almost double what we get in a typical winter). As long as the news vehicle moves slowly, the pictures are good–but rarely any more interesting or informative than the shots we used to see before reporters fell in love with their newest toy.

As someone teaching future journalists, a key issue to me is the point Tomkins makes later in the story–which features an interview with the reporter about “working alone”–about the effect on staffing: “This type of reporting marks a new day. It is more than backpack journalism or one-woman-band reporting; it is soup to nuts, live reporting without a live truck or a signal that looks like a Max Headroom video. Obviously, it is also a potential cost-saving way to use fewer people and to send in live reports without using expensive trucks.” (emphasis mine)

As technology continues to improve and news organizations cut more staffers, those organizations can rely increasingly on non-professionals to provide content. My local paper, for example, may use pictures, video and/or text from some of my students who will be in Washington, D.C., for the Inauguration. That would be good for my students, would let the paper cover the event more comprehensively than it would otherwise (not long ago, it probably would have relied on wire service copy), and would let readers in on more of the action.

At the same time, amateur citizen journalism further decreases the need (in the eyes of owners) for qualified journalists, and increases the possibilty for error–or even intentional fraud by people who may try to scam a news organization with dramatic–but misleading or false–video or text.

Off to New York and D.C.

My own posts may come less frequently for the next few weeks, since a dozen students and I are about to leave for a 17-day study program to New York and Washington, D.C. We meet with about two dozen professionals in media-related fields, and most of us plan to be among the millions of people attending the Presidential Inauguration.  It didn’t occur to me when I started planning the trip that Manhattan would be the less crowded of the two places we’ll be spending most of our time.

The students will be blogging along the way (and perhaps linked with the Spokesman-Review), if you want to keep up with what they’re doing and some of their reactions to people and places they’ll visit–including the Nielsen Co., NPR, PBS, the Associated Press, The Onion, The Smoking Gun, Saatchi & Saatchi, Barron’s, Fairness & Accuracy in Media, the Public Relations Society of America, Columbia Journalism Review, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Student Press Law Center. It should be quite a trip.

And just in case I don’t get to post as regularly as usual and you’d like something more to read as long as you’re here, below are 20 favorite posts that you may have missed from the past:

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlersBurn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

Bettie Page & Robin Toner: Two women who made media history

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Christmas killers, foreign & domestic: More proof the world looks better from a distance

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

Top stories and missing stories of 2008: Obama, the economy, China and Mother Nature–and by the way, isn’t something going on in Iraq?

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Out with the bad … and in with the worse?

Posted by James McPherson on December 31, 2008

Despite the election of Barack Obama, and largely due to economic issues, obviously 2008 has been a rough year in the worlds of politics and media (including movies, though I’m more concerned about the news media–thinking that my journalistic friends may need a New Deal-style program to be able to keep reporting the news).

Cable news networks may be doing OK, but more comprehensive (and therefore more useful) media are suffering. Just spend a half hour or skimming through the stories shared by Poynter’s Jim Romanesko and you’ll see at least a year’s worth of bad media business news.

And with even Obama promising that “things will get worse before they get better”–and some very smart people such as James Howard Kuntsler (author of The Long Emergency) and my ecologist brother saying much, much worse–it’s no wonder people are afraid to make New Year’s resolutions.

As for me, I resolve to keep writing as long as I can, blogging as long as the power is on, and teaching as long as my employer stays in business. I have good neighbors and a range of skills that might keep me fed. Besides, as my wife has reminded me, at various times in my life I’ve lived in a bus, a pickup camper and a tent.

Perhaps it’s simply denial (an oft-underated tool), but I trust that whatever happens, my family and I will be “fine in ’09.” I hope you will be, too. Happy New Year!

For a funny review of the year that’s about to be gone, check out the JibJab video below:

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Four reasons newspapers won’t soon disappear

Posted by James McPherson on November 30, 2008

A friend recently reduced his subscription to the local daily, to get it only Wednesdays and Sundays (so he gets the most important ads), while reading online the rest of the week. As much as I love newspapers, I still couldn’t offer him a good reason not to do make the change.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the decline of print media, and I suspect that my political science professor who predicted in 1993 that print newspapers would disappear “within 10 years” is still making the same prediction. Still, I expect that newspapers will be with us for some time to come, for the following reasons:

  1. Big events. People still turn to print newspapers for coverage of events ranging from elections to mass disasters. Print media provide more depth of coverage than broadcast media, and they also provide a physical reminder of the event. Internet newspapers might provide the former, but I can’t see most people wanting to print out a Web page to save in their family mementos.
  2. Supermarkets and department stores. This weekend provides a big reminder that there is no good alternative for some types of newspaper ads.
  3. Sundays. Too many of us like to peruse the newspaper in a leisurely fashion on Sundays, laughing at the funnies, and trading sections and observations with others whom we care about.
  4. Mass transit, which is necessary in some American cities (and more widespread overseas) and may become increasingly important in the United States if Barack Obama is serious about rebuilding infrastructure while reducing our dependence on oil. Some of the massive subsidies now used to prop up our highway-centric lifestyle might be diverted to more logical transit alternatives. And until handheld devices become as cheap, simple and portable as the New York Post or USA Today, subway riders will turn to print.

Newspapers will continue to change, in many ways not for the better, and the staff cuts at most publications are alarming to those of us who care about journalism and journalists. Some papers will publish less frequently in the future than they do now. Newspapers and other media will increasingly go online, and will figure out new ways to make a profit.

Student Jasmine Linabary, the Pew Research Center and various folks at the Poynter Institute are among those tracking the changes, some of which make the future of media look at least as exciting as it is scary. As for me, you’ll have to excuse me: It’s time to grab a bite and finish the Sunday paper.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The force isn’t with CNN’s ‘holograms’

Posted by James McPherson on November 9, 2008

Obviously no news organization should fake the news. I also have serious reservations about “re-creations” sometimes used–especially, it seems, to dramatize the murders of attractive young women–to demonstrate what happened (or may have happened), typically with shadowy, shaky camera work and mood-inspiring music added.

Use of technology to report the weather is somewhat different. In that case, graphics on a green screen enhance the viewer’s ability to understand what’s going on. Election maps and various charts and graphs can do the same thing for a news organization’s ability to explain the news.

And while election night is a time when the networks like to bring out the toys, CNN went too far with its use of “holograms” (actually “tomograms”) that “chatted” with Wolf Blitzer (who sometimes doesn’t seem quite real, himself, but that’s a separate issue) and Anderson Cooper. As the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran notes, “This particular tool added absolutely nothing to the substance of the coverage–and thus, it became a mere stunt that trivialized CNN’s coverage.” (italics and bold type in original)

The problem is that Blitzer and Cooper were talking to blank space, rather than to actual images of correspondent Jessica Yellin and rapper Will.I.Am. Why not just use a traditional video screen? As for Yellin, who referenced Princess Leia (Will.I.Am also made a “Star Wars” reference), according to a CNN article, “Now, in hindsight, Yellin only wishes she could have come up with a better ‘Star Wars’ joke.”

You can see clips of the CNN experiment below, followed by a clip that explains some of the technology:

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

In search of Sarah, and where Congress spends your money

Posted by James McPherson on September 23, 2008

John McCain and Sarah Palin finally went too far in trying to protect the GOP’s “pretty little lady” from the media today. Faced with a rare journalistic exhibition of backbone, the campaign was forced to back down before its nominees climbed back aboard what journalists are now calling “the no-talk express.”

As far as I can tell, McCain and Palin have done only one thing to counter recent indications that they will be as secretive as Dick Cheney and George Bush. And that one positive act–which applies more to a weakening Congress than to a power-hungry executive branch, anyway–actually served more to show how out of touch Palin is with the government she hopes to help lead.

Palin drew fire for suggesting that she would provide the same kind of oversight for federal spending as she had for spending in Alaska. The criticism came not because of the idea itself, but because she was unaware that such a program already exists–thanks to a law co-sponsored by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Below you can see a video about the bill (which Palin’s buddy, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, and Democrat Robert Byrd tried to secretly block).

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 provides a searchable U.S. government database, USAspending.gov (which I’ve also linked at right under both “Journalism Resources” and “Goverment Resources”). As the Poynter Institute’s Alan Abbey points out, “This resource is a goldmine for journos, particularly local media–especially in an election year–since the data are easily searchable by congressional district.” Abbey also notes: “USAspending.gov is an offshoot of the earlier (and still ongoing) online database FedSpending.org, which crunches the data even further. FedSpending, which was chreated by the watchdog group OMB Watch, also is updated to include partial data for FY 2008.

By the way, particularly interesting in light of the past week’s economic events, is a Sept. 9 OMB Watch story about the Bush Administration’s “last minute rush to dismantle public protections.” OMB Watch executive director Gary D. Bass writes, “Events show the administration is starting to kick things into high gear on regulations, trying to lock the next administration into a Bush legacy.”

Two weeks later, considering the ineptitude and accompanying costs of the Iraq War, disaster relief and economic meltdown, we know that the “Bush legacy” goal has been achieved. At least the next two presidential administrations will be dealing with trying to clean up the Bush/Cheney mess–at least three or four administrations, if the next one is headed by the increasingly comically press-paranoid McCain and Palin.

Note that Palin still has not had even one news conference and has submitted to only two television interviews–one with Fox’s Sean Hannity, who would have not have been able to pass my junior-level reporting class by asking the kind of inane, sycophantic, leading questions he offered. The “interview” demonstrated far more about Hannity’s opinions of Obama (though nothing we didn’t already know) than we learned about Palin. You can see some of it with the second video below.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Literary journalism & the Web: the newest “new journalism”? (Part I)

Posted by James McPherson on August 14, 2008

The print version of a recent Columbia Journalism Review article is subtitled, “A new kind of journalism takes root in a struggling Detroit neighborhood.” An interesting aside is the fact that the online version is titled “Crossing Lines” while the print version uses “Drawing Lines,” but the key point remains: that a Detroit News blog is going beyond tradition journalism to improve an impoverished Detroit neighborhood. In the words of CJR’s writer: They “aren’t just reporting the neighborhood’s story. They’re affecting the story. In some ways, they are the story.” (emphasis in original)

The activism draws criticism from even among others at the News, who worry that it compromises the newspaper’s credibility. The concern is worth consideration, complicated by the proliferation of blogs coming from news organizations throughout the country. But the fact is, for most of those organizations, credibility in a traditional sense is pretty much a lost cause for a couple of reasons. First, if “credibility” is code for “objectivity,” there’s no such thing as an objective reporter (or historian, or teacher). Second, Americans like the news media in general just a bit more than they like George W. Bush or Congress.

Journalism is changing, as it always has. The term “New Journalism” has been used most prominently with the journalism of the 1880s and 1890s and then again with the literary journalism of the 1960s and 1970s, but has also been applied to the Penny Press of the 1830s and the civic journalism movement of the late 20th century. “New” just keeps happening.

Besides, campaigns by newspapers are far from new. Newspapers have always advocated for issues they saw as being for the civic good (even if far too often their biases corresponded with the desires of the Chamber of Commerce). My own local daily, the Spokesman-Review, recently devoted an entire month of front-page attention to the issue of child abuse, and its own annual Christmas fund is front-page news every day from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas.

We know that bloggers are changing news, even if–as recently reported by a Poynter Institute columnist and others–the most popular blogs tend to look and act much like mainstream news organizations. That shift worries people on both sides, though a careful reader could be much better informed about issues by relying only on blogs than on a local newspaper or–God forbid–television news.

One of the most interesting things I got out of last week’s Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication convention was a discussion that–combined with the CJR article (which I read on the train on the way home from AEJMC) and some other tidbits of information–prompted the idea that blogging might actually “save” the 1960s-style literary journalism, which has faded significantly from the types of magazines that most Americans actually read. More on that in an upcoming post.

Posted in History, Journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Speaking for the poor

Posted by James McPherson on June 12, 2008

Pultizer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr has long been one of my favorite columnists. Probably nobody writes better about issues of race, though he also focuses on a number of other themes relevant to American society and politics. His Sept. 12, 2001, column titled “We’ll Go Forward from this Moment” flashed around the world via the Internet and gave voice to the anger and determination of millions–an anger that might have made us stronger if the Bush administration hadn’t managed to tie it so heavily to fear and twisted it with lies to bog us down in an ill-advised war against an enemy totally unrelated to the 9/11 attacks still being used by some to justify that war.

On a personal note, I might add that Pitts also is interesting as a public speaker (not true of all writers) and in conversation. A few years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with him and a few others, and I’m convinced that the highlight of my student newspaper editor’s year was sharing conversation and a chocolate dessert with Pitts that evening.

Pitts’ column in my morning paper today, however, reminds me of another problem with modern media. It’s not the problem mentioned in his most famous column, and which I’ve often criticized: the fact that we’re so “capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae–a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse.” No, today’s problem has to do with the poor, and their lack of a meaningful voice.

Crime news and entertainment media alike are more likely to portray minorities and the poor as perpetrators of crime. The fact that those same people are more likely to be victims is less obvious, and even the somewhat rosy FBI crime report released a few days ago may hide some disturbing trends. In addition, the media seldom remind us that most welfare recipients are white–even if we just go with traditional definitions of welfare and exclude farm subsidies, corporate tax breaks, homeowner exemptions, retirement benefits and the like. Still, despite the fact that most Americans probably don’t know those things, they’re all old news.

Also not new but worthy of discussion is something else Pitts points out, that poverty is not a black-white-brown issue, and that far too often, “The poor among us retreat instead into the easy comfort of tribalism, black with black, brown with brown, white with white, unable to conceive they might have common concerns that transcend melanin and ancestry. They divide themselves, and thus render themselves inconsequential so that those above in aeries of wealth and power can rest easy, unthreatened by demands for change.”

After eloquently and justifiably asking “who speaks for the poor?” Pitts concludes his piece with, “Or better yet, when do the poor finally speak for themselves?” And therein lies the problem. Assuming that their daily struggles with issues of family, food, shelter and gas prices allow them to time and energy to do so, how do they “speak” when their possible outlets for speaking have been so limited?

After all, the poor don’t “render themselves inconsequential” all by themselves, especially because those within “the aeries of wealth and power”–including corporate media owners–benefit so much from the current situation. I’m no Marxist, but I do know that local television news doesn’t adequately cover anything except perhaps the weather, and newspapers don’t cover the poor. Poor parts of town don’t appeal to advertisers, so newspapers have little incentive to sell papers there or to cover those areas. Newspaper subscriptions are expensive–and just try finding a newspaper vending box in the poorest part of your own city, even if you have the 50 cents or more to spend to try to find out what the City Council has planned for your neighborhood.

The rural poor may be even less represented, especially since news organizations continue to cut staffs–and because news from the outback has little chance of “paying off” in any meaningful way for a media organization. I grew up in a small town in Idaho, and was interested in journalism as early as junior high. But except when I went away to camp, I never had the chance to meet a real reporter until I was in college. Even our high school sports results were called in by the winning coach (though in some places newspapers hire college students as stringers to cover the games, while continuing to ignore issues related to rural poverty).

In addition, with the disparate state of education in poor neighborhoods compared to the suburbs, and with news media that seem to have little relevance to their own lives, the poor are less inclined to turn to the media to try to express their own concerns. They’re also far less likely to have computer skills or Internet access (in some cases, the rural poor still lack electricity), so they are unlikely to have the ability to speak for themselves via blogs such as this one (and with millions of blogs, the chances of any one being read and taken seriously are remote), or to use networking tools to discover and discuss their common interests.

An interesting related discussion comes in a piece today from the Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran in which she asks, “Do most people really care about local community news?” and “If they really valued it, wouldn’t far more of them make more effort to find it, read it, share it, and preserve and expand it–as well as create their own?” The piece then focuses mostly on news about suburban issues, before asking, “What do you think–and even more importantly, what do you actually see and do in your own life and community?” If the question is aimed at journalists, an accurate answer likely would be “not much.” And if the question is aimed at the people who live in those communities, people in the poorest communities likely can’t answer at all, because they won’t see the question.

Incidentally, ignoring the poor is nothing new for the media. Many news organizations acted as though the Great Depression did not exist even while we were in the midst of it (it will be interesting to see if they do the same if the ongoing slump turns into a new depression). I do like Pitts’ idea of the poor joining together, rising up against the forces that divide and continually conquer them. But activist organizations of all stripes tend to be heavily made up of retirees and college students for a reason–because those folks have the time and money to spare. Sadly, the poor typically have neither.

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