China and its Discontents

What is Progressive Journalism?

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Herbert Gans presents the news as telling two different, contradictory stories: a story that affirms the status quo social order, and a story that pushes for Progressive reform of the type we read about in the readings last week on journalism in turn-of-the-20th-century Detroit. I cannot analyze the news environment that Gans deals with from personal experience, because I was not alive during the 60’s and 70’s. But I can relate Gans’ conclusions to the modern media environment. Given the way the news acts today, it seems far more likely that the news is interested, albeit unwittingly, in preserving the status quo.

This seems an unlikely conclusion to make given the national mood since the recession started. The amount of muckraking journalism to expose corruption and malfeasance in the public sphere, and especially in private industry and finance, seems to have risen extraordinarily. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are not treated unsympathetically as mindless violence, a la the “ghetto violence” and war protests Gans mentions from the 60’s, but as serious movements with admirable policy platforms.

In theory, journalistic outlets are progressive because they identify the “moral disorder” of elites (per Gans’s terminology). But this is, I think, very much a facade. Gans already identifies the ways in which the news does not reflect what I would call “true” progressivism: it mainly allies itself with the values of the upper-middle class, professional elites that make up those news outlets’ readership. It doesn’t pay attention to the plight of the poor. It does not truly question authority.

That might be a naive standard to set. But journalists have to question authority to conduct true journalism. Journalists failed in their charge after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq War precisely because they failed to question authority and allied themselves with the predominate moral and political opinions of those in power, politically, economically, and socially. The examples of this malfeasance of the journalistic class abounds and are too many to continue.

Written by Will

April 1st, 2012 at 6:29 pm