Journalism as “The Big Tent”

Why is it that, with the possible exception of the Center for Public Integrity, there has been virtually no investment in nonpoliticized, hard-news reporting on the Web?

Don’t look to mainsteam media, which use the Internet primarily as a means of promoting their traditional offline fare.

And don’t look to “alternative” news media either, which, online or off, have largely championed politicized, advocacy journalism, in which there’s room for only one kind of reader — the kind who agrees with you.

Spirited partisanship rules the Web, particularly in response to Bush administration policies and the success of Fox News, the Drudge Report and right-wing talk show hosts.

Thus, the only public-media sites getting money from foundations are TomPaine.com, Alternet.org and similar opinion mills.

(Some notable, if imperfect, exceptions to this rule include the hyperlocal movement — which is capable of delivering non-spun coverage of neighborhood/regional issues, but wants for a larger statewide/national perspective — and next generation Web media, which prioritize innovation as a precursor to excellence.)

Commercial sites, too — when not delivering a bounty of lifestyle and pop-culture features — leaven their coverage with large dollops of advocacy and spin.

In terms of galvanizing opposition in a time of political upheaval and one-party rule, I understand the functionality and value of the partisan press.

The question persists, however: Is this the best we can do for democracy? Expanding the square footage of the ideological echo chamber? Whatever happened to E Pluribus Unum?

The issue is particularly compelling now, as the ’08 election looms at the horizon. The odor of White House scandal has grown overpowering, and the dogs of the partisan press have gone from yapping to barking to outright howling at the moon. Their appetite whetted by last fall’s rout of the Republican Congress, leftist media grow ever more shrill, matching the right in viciousness and ad hominem attacks, as the presumptive coup de grace grows ever more near.

Anyone can attack, and anyone with a knack for a put-down can attack scathingly, wittily, brilliantly. But what does that have, ultimately, to do with true democracy? How does that nurture genuinely inclusive dialogue? How does that contribute to the measured, reasonable consideration of weighty issues in public fora?

It appears, at times, more like schoolyard vindictiveness, and a colossal distraction from issues that matter — mastered by the right, embraced by the left, and leaving one gaping at the sideshow pie fights and put-downs.

Schadenfreude is one thing. But the well-financed parade of denigration that is today’s partisan press is a waste of the philanthropic dollars they gobble up by the bale.

What is particularly troublesome is that the advocacy press actually DOES break important stories, but in so doing makes the story inaccessible for all except fellow believers.

In the past, Newsdesk.org proselytizers were met with blank stares as we made the case for boosting nonpartisan journalism on the Internet.

“How can you be unbiased, especially when we have Bush to unseat?” the financiers and power brokers insist.

The

issue of bias and false objectivity aside — we can discuss that at length elsewhere, if you wish — Newsdesk.org is not here to unseat Bush, or any politician.

Newsdesk.org is here to give you the means to make up your own mind about who to vote in or out, who to protest and who to laud, and a host of other questions pertinent to the functioning of Democracy.

Our political interests may reveal themselves by our story selections, but we are not writing for people on our “side.” No matter your political persuasion, you should walk away from Newsdesk.org feeling that the issue of the day has been given a thorough and fairminded treatment; and, if not, you should be fully empowered to let us and all the other readers know it.

Seems more and more Americans are swinging our way — even the core constituency of the feverishly opinionated blogosphere! (Blurb courtesy of Media Alliance.):

A July 2007 Pew Research Center survey has documented growing levels of unhappiness with new sources by Americans across political differences and news consumption habits. More than half of Americans say US news organizations are politically biased, inaccurate and don’t care about the people they report on. Among those who get their news from newspapers and televisions, criticism was as much as 20 percentage points lower than among Internet news audiences, who tend to be younger, more affluent and better educated than the public as a whole. Interestingly, some of the highest levels of unhappiness are among regular viewers of the Fox Network News: 63% of them say news stories are often inaccurate.

“Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations”
Pew Research Center, August 9, 2007

People, listen: It’s time to get serious about alternative media.

Can you imagine what a travesty coverage of the 2008 elections will be if all we have is horse-race poll watching from the mainstream and partisan mudslinging from the upstarts online?

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