The late journalist and Los Angeles Times editor John Caroll put forward the thought of “a crisis of the soul in journalism” when Frontline aired the third part of its multi-part series ‘News War’ back in 2007. It was a fascinating, if a bit scary, time in the realm of journalism when this was said as more networks went from hard-hitting journalism to more news magazine based form of entertainment.
These relied on anything from hidden camera operations in the case of ABC Primetime and Dateline’s popular To Catch a Predator series. Corporations were beginning to rear their ugly heads into the newspaper industry. Cable news outlets became less about the facts and more about opinions and talking heads (not the cool David Byrne kind). The internet was a growing medium for news and The Daily Show was on fire with Jon Stewart leading the charge.
“Here it is, your Moment of Zen.” – Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
Caroll’s idea was buried within these various concepts with the idea of ethics. In this case, the smaller metaethics.
Metaethics divulges more into our own moral ideas. Moral realists accepts there are moral facts in life that simply one does not cross and moral antirealists believe that there are no moral facts or objective ideas. Then, we have cultural relativism that discusses that moral facts differ from one culture to another. These metaethics concept will be the template of diving deep into this crisis presented within the doc itself.
To attempt to understand the moral realism present in journalism is to look at the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times was keeping their integrity being one of the three big newspapers on the ground in Iraq and winning Pulitzer after Pulitzer. That, of course, did not matter to their parent company of Tribune, whose shareholders could care less about award-winning work, but rather care about profits and money in the end. Unbeknownst to them, newspapers are not exactly a growth business.
The moral anti-realism would take shape in the form of firings, lay off and the urge to take LA Times away from the ground of Iraq simply stating “people do not want to read about the Iraq war.” Going local would be the route to earn more money, but even then, local classifieds and ad revenue where diverting to the likes of Craigslist and Monster. Tribune was more focused on building a media empire rather than the journalistic integrity of the paper. The lack of focus on the internet presence was also a factor.
On the contrary is the Washington Post, pre-Bezos’ reign, embraced the new of the internet by diving deep into adapting themselves in the realm. This is still seen today by getting heavy into the idea of video, live broadcasts from the newsroom and even an early adoption of podcasts in a time where that was still in its infancy. Luckily, the LA Times has recovered nicely embracing what the Washington Post did year earlier before the others.
Luckily, these papers are still with us and here to stay. As Caroll once said,
“If newspapers fall by the wayside, what would we know?”