Why Newspapers Make You Mad

This week the Boston Globe organized an effort to encourage newspapers to publish editorials today responding to attacks on the press by President Trump, who has called journalists “enemies of the people” (borrowing from the likes of Stalin and Goebbels) and denounces reporting he dislikes as “fake news.” The call has been answered by more than 300 newspapers, along with organizations such as the Institute for Nonprofit News, of which The Highlands Current is a member.

Journalists are right to push back but would do just as well to show they are not an enemy by doing what they have always done: expose injustice, follow the money and shed light in dark places. Politicians all complain about their coverage; Trump is just more skilled than most at pushing buttons.

There are two problems with the president’s rhetoric. First, journalists are shot dead all over the world by people who believe they are enemies. Would you die for your job? Second, the disdain has trickled down to local newspapers, where editors report that politicians have started dismissing any coverage they are unhappy with as “fake news” rather than responding for the benefit of the people who elected them. Thankfully we have not yet heard the phrase in these parts; only the usual invectives.

The fact that the press is not an enemy doesn’t make us a friend. “A newspaper should have no friends,” said Joseph Pulitzer, meaning if everyone consistently loves what you report, you’re probably not digging deep enough. Newspapers aren’t designed to cheer anyone up. They should irritate you sometimes. They should make you uncomfortable, or angry. They should challenge your beliefs.

You will sometimes see bias, even when the reporter is honestly puzzled by the charge. Journalists like to think they have tough skins, but it’s the most navel-gazing profession outside of obstetricians — we hold seminars and read books and kvetch about whether we were fair. We take criticism personally. We put our heads in our hands when we spell a name wrong. We try to do better. We aren’t in it for the money.

All this is to say, The Current exists because a number of people in the Highlands believe that Beacon and Cold Spring and Garrison and Nelsonville deserve a quality newspaper written by local reporters with years of experience. Regardless of the criticism thrown our way (which we print!), we strive to get it right and keep you informed and keep an eye on the elected officials who are spending our money. Thousands of papers do the same around the country. They are not an enemy, or a friend. They are faulty, aggravating, informative, inspirational tools of democracy. Without them, we’re headed in a dangerous direction.

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2 Responses to "Why Newspapers Make You Mad"

  1. Bob McCabe
    Bob McCabe   August 16, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Good one. Keep the presses rolling… or interweb weaving!

  2. Frank Haggerty   August 24, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I think you have to make a distinction between small, local, and relatively independent community supported newspapers, if and where they do exist (The Current is frankly an uncommon example), and the large, powerful, national, even international, media organizations and conglomerates (such as the Boston Globe, which while sounding like and at one time was a fiercely independent newspaper, has for many years now been owned and controlled by the New York Times corporation).

    The U.S. national media do not conform to the popular concept of a free press in that it is largely and closely controlled by the power and influence of their advertisers (mostly consumer-orientated corporations), the quality of their reports being subject to how well they manage and bow to their “sources,” and as being subject to the whims of their shadowy editors and owners. (As a counterexample, most of us know who is The Current’s editor, and he is relatively accessible.) Where the distribution of economic and political power are not near to equal, and where the inequalities are not counterbalanced by democracy and by an effective democratic process — this is the case in this country — the press emphatically is not free. People know this in their gut. Even writing about it will come across as a trivial statement, a truism.

    The fact that The Current feels a need to piggy back of the Globe’s initiative shows how much power the closely-controlled national media conglomerates have to influence “the news,” even at the level of a small, “local” community. I put the word local in quotations because the communities served by The Current inescapably are interconnected to Greater New York City and thusly inevitably much subject to the economy and culture of that city.

    On a related note, and as the editorial explicitly mentioned it, no, we do not have a democracy in this country. Never have. The opportunity to vote for candidates previously selected by mostly unknown people sitting on privately-controlled committees from long-established (read sclerotic) national political parties does not equate to democracy. Democracy is “the rule of the people.” Certainly it is not “the rule of party committees.” At best the system we have is one of non-proportional representative aristocracy — in reality that typically means we have oligarchy and plutocracy — plutocratic oligarchy, if you will. Just because the odd primary election (NY-14 Congressional district) or the odd presidential election (2016) produces particularly and specifically in the national media a severe case of indigestion does not change the fact.

    On the other hand, it is possible for the plutocracy to fight amongst themselves. Largely, that is what is happening now. As in the time of Pompey and Caesar.