Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Declaration of media independence

A journalism professor has issued a manifesto to turn the media upside down.
He declares that the media and journalism schools must “jettison the illusions of neutrality that have hampered their ability to monitor the centers of power” and develop “real critical thinking for students.”
The professor is Bob Jensen of the University of Texas, Austin. He comes from a profession not known for radicalism. Yet Jensen has written what may be the most radical statement ever made by a journalism professor.
His manifesto continues: “Journalism’s business problems provide an opportunity for journalism education to remake itself. It should start with a declaration of independence from the mainstream media and a renunciation of the corporate media’s allegiances to the existing power structure.”
Jensen, writing recently for the online CommonDreams, said “if journalism education is to be relevant in the coming decades, we must change course dramatically.”
Jensen sees the world on the brink of disaster: political, cultural, economic and ecological. He particularly frets about the tremendous gap between the rich and the poor.
Then, like a latter-day Marxist prophet, he argues truly: “We face a world that is profoundly unjust in the distribution of wealth and power and fundamentally unsustainable in our use of ecological resources.”
The traditional way of the media and journalism schools is woefully inadequate for a world with multiplying crises.
Jensen: “The task of journalism is to deepen our understanding of these challenges and communicate that understanding to the public” while fostering “meaningful dialogue necessary for a real democracy.”
Journalists, he rightly argues, are “trapped in corporate-directed subservience to the status quo. What is needed is a journalism that ”speaks truth to power” instead of echoing “the platitudes of the powerful.”
“In a world in which an increased predatory global capitalist economy leaves half the population living on less than $2.50 a day, can we ignore the cry for justice?”
No, we can’t.
Jensen ends with a ringing call: “Mass media have a moral responsibility to produce journalism for justice.”
Yet few journalism faculties will even discuss Jensen’s argument. They prefer what they always have done.
As Jack Newfield of the Village Voice wrote decades ago: “The men and women who control the media are not neutral, unbiased computers. They believe in capitalism, God, the West, the family, property and the two-party system. These are the values in society in which publishers, editors and reporters operate.”
While some newspaper staffers agree with Jensen, they will not speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
Certainly journalism schools should train students for media jobs. But they must “search for the values and ideas that can animate a just society.”
The sacred canon of objectivity is the overwhelming problem of the media.
Journalists report the he said-she said but leave the truth dangling. Journalists too often rely on official sources, leaving out essential truths.
The late Molly Ivins put it well: “The press has always had a tendency to assume that the truth must lie halfway between any two opposing viewpoints. Thus, if the press presents the man who says Hitler is an ogre and the man who says Hitler is a prince, it believes it has done its journalistic duty.”
The media value impartiality more than validity.
Jensen writes in his book “Citizens of the Empire”: “I want to examine the intellectual and political collapse of the United States and confront the sense of alienation and isolation that so many feel in the face of the triumphalism common in the country.”
He wants Americans--and hence the media--to confront the “illegal and immoral war on Afghanistan.” He wants them to confront the fact that America has no business being in Iraq. He wants them to summon up “the courage to stop being Americans and become human beings.”
In another online essay, Jensen urges Americans to face their terrible war culture, face their everlasting wars, face their grotesque interventions in the affairs of other nations and their desire for world dominance.
As Henry Giroux has written in the online Truthout: “War is so anesthetized by the dominant media that it resembles an ad for a tourist industry.”
Jensen wants to change this. Perhaps he is hopelessly optimistic. But if the media abandon their bogus neutrality they have the power to make this a more civilized and humane nation.
A media drumfire against the injustices of wars and wrong-headed policies could put this country on the path of righteousness.
Even a CEO of Coca-Cola once admitted that the worst media trait is “preoccupation with objectivity and balance at the expense of context, perspective and judgment.”