Yesterday I summarized one section of aÂ 160,000 wordÂ report titled, the State of the News Media 2007. Today I had planned toÂ do a second summary, focusing onÂ theÂ sectionÂ that surveyed the attitudes of mass media journalists.
But this morning IÂ woke up and said, “Fuck it!”.Â What could aÂ white paper tell me about the sadÂ state ofÂ professional journalism that I didn’tÂ learn first hand lastÂ night when IÂ attendedÂ a fundraiserÂ to supportÂ newspaper editor Jerry Roberts.
I’ll assumeÂ you’ve atÂ leastÂ heard how Wendy McCaw, owner of the Santa Barabara News-Press, went to war with her own staff — led by Roberts,Â the paper’sÂ editorÂ –Â whenÂ he tried to enforce the quaint journalisticÂ notion that publishers should makeÂ money and not meddleÂ in the news. (For detailsÂ of the affair read theÂ American Journalism Review articleÂ “Santa Barabara Smackdown“.)Â Somewhere along theÂ way McCawÂ sued RobertsÂ for $25 million. I’m not sure of theÂ preciseÂ nature of her cause of action. I’m guessing it wasÂ something along the lines of: “How dareÂ you, I own this paper!”
In any event, meÂ andÂ a couple of hundred other people who revere and respect RobertsÂ showed up last nightÂ for anÂ event that turned out to be quite a pisser.Â It was a chance for old friends to reconnect, almost like a wake in that regardÂ except that it was either happier — as Jerry (shown above) ain’t dead yet — or sadder, becauseÂ you canÂ see himÂ being crushed toÂ death byÂ McCaw’s legal bullying.
So this morning,Â dutiful blogger that I am,Â I put on my reading glasses andÂ read fromÂ theÂ sectionÂ of the report on journalistic sentiment:
“There are also signs that the economic influences on the news business have become more pernicious . . .Â Â a third of local journalists say they have felt such pressure, most notably from either advertisers or from corporate owners. In other words, one of the most dearly held principles of journalism-the independence of the newsroom about editorial decision-making-increasingly is being breached.”
And I took off my glasses and said to myself, “Oh, you think?”
The party for Jerry Roberts was asÂ warm and gracious as the man himself, and all the more sweetÂ because it tookÂ its tone from his own humorous style. And last night, even with his back to the wall, facing legal bills and health problems and the stress and fear ofÂ beingÂ overmatched in a fight, he leaned on his old friend, laughter.
“How come I spent 35 years in journalism and nobody paid attention till I stopped,” he quipped when he addressed the smiling circle of supporters.Â Several years back,Â as managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle where I worked for him, Roberts was renowned for doing “Top 10 lists” at going away parties and, of course, he came prepared with all the reasons why, in retrospect, taking the job at Santa Barbara turned out to be a goof.
Of course these are all inside jokes, andÂ everybody in the room knewÂ that Roberts had been pushed out of the Chronicle after it was acquired byÂ the Hearst Corporation. So itÂ drew a laughÂ when he saidÂ one of his reasons forÂ taking the Santa BarabaraÂ spot was: “I’m done working for newspaper chains; the future of this industry is in responsible local ownership.”Â When Jerry had run down the rest ofÂ the listÂ he shrugged andÂ recited reason number oneÂ he had gone to work for Wendy McCaw: “What’s she gonna do? Sue me!”
That’s not so funny when the name on the lawsuitÂ is yours, whenÂ it isÂ designed to bleed you white with legal fees, andÂ your friends are people like me (IÂ slipped out during the silent auction because I didn’t have the money to buyÂ anything and knew that if I hung around I’d feel pressured into getting something I neither needed nor could afford.)
ButÂ I don’t want to whine, not about me, not about Jerry, not even about the State of the News Media. Instead I want to think about one section of the survey on the attitudes of journalists that went into great detail on whether or not they tilt liberal, or conservative or libertarian, or whether they are satisfied with national media coverage of President Bush. There is a great deal on this in the survey and I understand why: various segments of the public, especially people in politics are preoccupied with identifying and expunging media bias.
Okay, I understand, and I do notÂ dismiss theÂ likelihood nor the consternation over such perceived biases. But surveys of political bias miss a much larger point: mass media journalists are fearful. I’ve addressed this point before in a posting called Nervous Watchdogs. Because when you’re worried about layoffs — or in the case of Jerry Roberts, worse –Â that must affect the nature and character of the news.
You think?Â Â
(Meanwhle send your best wishes and yourÂ loose change toÂ Jerry Roberts and Friends.)Â Â