The press used to be called the fourth estate, a check on the three other estates, including the clergy, noble classes and commoners. That estate seems to be disappearing. For at least the last decade or more, the very same corporate brand of corruption that the press covered, is growing within some of the well known and larger media outlets in this country. Just one amazing example occurred back in 1999 when the Los Angeles Times produced a huge magazine about the opening of the sports arena, the Staples Center, after arranging to do so with center organizers. The paper's editors and reporters said they were not informed of the arrangement. Click here
But, of course, the question becomes where would such reporting come from? Certainly not the newspapers, television stations and Internet media producing a mostly superficial, one- or two-dimensional news product! And, experienced investigative freelance writers like myself who would like to begin hammering away at corruption within the industryhave a difficult time finding an outlet for their news product.
The news business is now part of a stockholder profit industry, not so much a creative art as it used to be. Decades ago many newspapers were owned by wealthy individual owners generally looking for 10- to 15-percent profit margins. Many of those owners either took classic journalistic values seriously or allowed news professionals to run the newsroom. They allowed for the large expense it takes to pay for months of investigative reporting work to produce a single story. Now corporate ownership has gobbled up many of those newspapers into corporate chains demanding profit margins of 20 to 30 percent. When those margins dropped or never appeared, the chains began cutting news content and staff, creating a deadly, predictable cycle of less profits which resulted inincredibly thinning staff and news holes.
Today the media more and morehave increasingly cooperated with big corporations to improperly leak lucrative corporate advertising into news content. Full-page movie ads dominate in movie review sections. Check out The New York Times' art section! Ugly little advertising stickers blot out headlines or the newspaper's masthead on page one. Check out The Hartford Courant for just one of the papers with this ugly habit! Business ads creep more and more into the business news section on many newspapers nationwide.
As this degradation intensifies, hypocrisy within the media leadership, including owners, publishers and editors, is overwhelming. Those representatives of outlets saying they want more freelance investigative reporting take it only from the very few favored or famous reporters. The publishers and editors still ask for such three-dimensional reporting from others less known, but then don't want to pay them or answer their repetitious emails or phone calls with in-depth or investigative story suggestions. Take it from a veteran newsman of four decades --unless you are known to those newspapers, magazines or Internet sites, they seldom even answer a reporter's e-mails or phone messages.
Among the most recent outrages are the dispute between forced-out "Watchdog" Hartford Courant Columnist George Gombossy, who says he will sue the paper because it wouldn't publish an adverse story about a Courant advertiser; and because editors generally had the attitude they wanted him to communicate with advertisers before he offered stories adverse to them. Here is one account from the Huffington Post: click here
Now another fury flies out in a recent story in the New York Times about its rival paper, The Wall Street Journal. The article tells of the workings of one of the Journal's columnists who amazingly turns out to be Mark J. Penn, president and chief executive of one of the world's largest public relations firms, Burson-Marsteller. The story by Times Staff Writer Richard Perez-Pena says a Penn column published more than a week ago was helpingin promoting one of his business interests. Penn denied promoting, but the business interest he wrote about did exist and is of interest to his clients. Here's the link to the story: click here
Now, if you really want to read about desecration of journalism as all of us in the business now know of it, read the book, "Losing the News," by Alex S. Jones. The book's review by Harold Evans in The New York Times is depressing to journalists. Jones believes millions of anxious news readers are now in danger of losing investigative and in-depth journalism entirely, a state that would leave the public ignorant of some of the most major and destructive corporate and government corruption in this country. Of course this theory is emphasized by the New Jersey reporters who were laid off or bought out and then were forced to start their own website for free or little compensation. See here.
Months later, this New Jersey story breaks on Reuters: "Dozens of New Jersey politicians, officials and prominent rabbis were arrested on Thursday in a sweeping federal probe that uncovered political corruption, human organ sales and money laundering from New York to Israel, officials said. The 10-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Bid Rig," exposed influence-peddling and bribe-taking among a network of public officials and a separate multimillion dollar money-laundering ring that funneled funds through charities operated by local rabbis, said the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark, New Jersey." click here
Now yes this was a federal investigation that uncovered this bed of iniquity. But, this kind of intense corruption inside a state known for it, could just as well been exposed much earlier by New Jersey news reporters on their own. And what if they did, when officials were either unaware or unwilling to investigate it? Certainly, federal, state or local officials would be embarrassed into their very own probe.
One of the best historical evidentiary examples of the fact that newspapers, without investigative help from government, expose the highest levels of corruption is in Connecticut, now known to some cynics as "Corrupticut." The only two times in the history of that statewherein high-ranking state officials were threatened with legislative impeachment arose when The Hartford Courant repeatedly investigated Hartford Probate Judge James Kinsella in the 1980s and then Governor John Rowland in the late 1990s into 2005. In Rowland's case, the federal authorities did have their own investigation, but started it after many years of Courant exposes. In U.S. history, only 19 governors have left office in the midst of a scandal, according to research by former Connecticut State Rep, Kenneth Bernhard. Both Rowland and Kinsella resigned before they could be impeached.
So what is the journalistic establishment doing to ensure that all of the talent and experience of tens of thousands of reporters is not forever totally lost? Not much so far. Twenty-seven news organizations, backed by one funding organization and two foundations, held a conference in June with the idea of "Creating the New Investigative News Network."
Repeated e-mails or telephone calls to many of those organizations were not returned or resulted in a couple of interviews with participants who still had no clue as to what course the conference organizers would take. As well, repeated complaints to these and other organizations that freelance investigative writers' story suggestions are being frozen out of the media nationwide have mostly fallen flat. Now, indeed, there are some media sites open to accepting investigative freelance stories for free or for several hundred dollars for months and months of work. How silly is that when news media sites nationwide and their readers complain that investigative or in-depth reporting has became scarce? Simultaneously, newspaper publishers and editors complain their regular stories are being stolen by Internet sites without compensation, while neither they nor television, nor radio nor Internet news wants to properly compensate freelance writers producing their own news articles.