Cultural Revolutions

The Problems of Contemporary Journalism

Contemporary Journalism suffers from many problems; to help us understand them, a quick imaginative exercise might be useful. Not too long ago, the South Carolina legislature had to decide on the emotive issue of whether to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the state Capitol. The issues involved were complex, and too familiar to be recycled here, but for present purposes, let us imagine a newspaper story about the event to decide whether it goes beyond the bounds of proper journalism. Reporting on the diehard defenders of the flag, our hypothetical story proceeds as follows: "'You see senators in tears—they know this vote may well be their last . . . I've never seen a vote that required more courage. . . . Many lawmakers have also described being appalled at the mail and phone calls they have received from opponents of the flag, who say the legislators are working for the devil and will go to hell and should forget about being reelected. . . . And in some cases, the threats appear to have backfired by convincing lawmakers of the depth and breadth of anti-flag feeling here, persuading them to vote for the flag. . . . Senator X, asked today if she risked losing her scat with her vote, said 'All of us do, but so what?'"

Right away, anyone with the slightest knowledge of journalistic standards will be shaking his head and listing the elementary flaws in the piece. Most glaringly, only representatives...

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