The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What's Right and Wrong with the Press

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 14
Conclusion: Journalism at a Time of Change

In this question, therefore, there is no medium between servitude and license; in order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils that it creates.

-- Alexis de Tocqueville ( 1835)

For journalism in America today, the news has been both encouraging and dispiriting. At its very best, during a time of crisis or a momentous event, the news media can do a marvelous job of telling the news thoroughly, yet quickly, then following up with needed interpretation and explanation to inform and reassure the public. For example, on the day of the death of China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, in February 1997 The New York Times provided five full pages of news and informed analysis. Several days later, Newsweek published a 25-page special report, "China After Deng" written by eleven experts.

But at their worst, even the best news media, when caught up with a riveting but essentially trivial story that may combine varying elements of celebrity, sex, crime, or scandal (preferably all four) can compete vigorously with the bottom-feeding tabloids for tidbits of scandal. The long-running saga of O.J. Simpson was only the most glaring example of many journalistic excesses. This kind of journalism has turned much of the public against the news media.


REASONS FOR CONCERN

This volume has been concerned about the fate of serious news and public information at a time when our vast popular culture apparatus has engulfed

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