COMMENTARY: Fiscal greed, information need
March 12, 2008
Last month, the Harvard Political Review suggested there “is no doubt that if journalists can no longer fill their role as the public’s watchdog, the media’s already-declining reputation among the public will suffer.”
That, in a nutshell, is why UncoveredSLO.com has evolved. We believe that our reporting will eventually encourage other local media to begin doing their share of watchdog work. But don’t hold your breath; newspapers and other media obsessed with pleasing all and reporting nothing will not change their slothful, profit-oriented ways easily.
Those old enough to remember the high drama of Richard Nixon’s Watergate adventure know that event sparked a nationwide interest in investigative journalism by newspapers and other media outlets.
Investigative journalism is simply in-depth reporting generally focusing on exposing social and economic injustices and abuses of power. But such reporting is expensive for most news outlets, certainly more costly than the usual day-to-day routine of most news gathering. It often requires one reporter, maybe more, to devote their full time and their employers’ resources to laboriously following trails and clues en route to a story’s eventual publication. However, this is a function of newspapers that produces no revenue. The result? The suits cut, slash, trim such “excess” at budget time.
This past summer, within one month, nine Sacramento capitol bureau reporters departed, some the victim of executive decisions from afar, others scampering to new jobs before their doors were shuttered.
John Howard, a former Associated Press bureau chief, reported in a capitolweekly.net story several months ago that the future of government reporting looks dim: “Fewer or less experienced capitol reporters mean less scrutiny of government.”
Howard’s words ring true in virtually any community in California. When an absence of attention is paid to the activities and practices of public officials with hands on public dollars, bad things happen. This isn’t opinion, this is human nature. And there’s nothing like the threat of sunlight to put the brakes on crooked or stupid government actions.
We hope this Website begins a process of improving real news coverage in this county. But if that is not imminent, we at UncoveredSLO.com are dedicated to filling the void. The “mainstream media” misinterprets the real threat to their bottom line, which is the Internet. Independent blogs and Web pages like this are rapidly replacing traditional newspaper and television investigative reporting teams as the source for below-the-surface, cutting-edge reporting.
This is bad for newspapers, but good for journalism and readers.