Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Watchdogs Failed to Bark on Economy

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pressing Issues: Watchdogs Failed to Bark on Economy

Article excerpt

Sometimes, pieces that may not really fit come together in revealing ways, especially nowadays, thanks to immediate distribution and then saturation via the Web. It happened again during the last week of March. Several leading newspapers announced new layoffs, furloughs and/or pay cuts. At least two members of the Washington press corps, at President Obama's second prime-time press conference, embarrassed themselves thoroughly, seemingly out of touch with the economic suffering of average Americans. A few hours later, a new Rasmussen poll revealed that one in four

Americans now believe that the "faux" news delivered by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is replacing "real" news sources as viable outlets.

Unlike previous polls, this one showed that it wasn't just Democrats and the under-30 crowd who feel this way (actually, more Republicans endorsed this view). After that press conference on TV, who could blame them? Especially since Stewart, earlier in the month, seemed to reveal more guts and passion -- and even skill -- than nearly anyone else in the "real" media in destroying Jim Cramer and some of his blowhard CNBC brethren for their cheerleading role in the financial collapse.

At the end of the month, Ben Stein, a friend of Cramer's, in his regular Sunday column for The New York Times, hailed Stewart for "calling us all to account." Why wasn't he praising the Times itself or any other member of the mainstream news media?

But it goes way beyond that.

No one is a bigger booster of news- papers than I, going back to my first job in journalism as a summer reporter four decades ago. I have long defended newspapers from charges of political "bias" and championed their coverage, and credibility, over that found in any other media. And, unlike some others, I have attributed their current economic problems mainly to non-coverage reasons, such as debt, the recession, and the unavoidable challenge of the Internet.

But in the wake of the financial collapse, I wonder if the remaining (if relatively low) public respect for the press is gone for good. Yes, the delivery platform of the future will change -- the Kindle, iPhone apps or rubbery plastic may replace paper everywhere -- but the content still has to be credible. …

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