Thomas Patterson’s new book on the current crises in journalism is organized around six specific problems, starting with “The Information Problem” and moving through Source, Knowledge, Education, Audience, and Democracy problems.
All problems, indeed. But, unfortunately, there is no chapter on the most crippling affliction of mainstream journalism in the United States: “The Ideology Problem.” That missing chapter would help explain the routine failure of mainstream journalism at what should be its central task in a democratic society—to analyze and critique systems of power to help ordinary people take greater control over our lives. The fact that this subject is missing helps explain the limited value of Patterson’s analysis.
The problem with the traditional press is not its structure or its code, but its performance. Too often, it has placed profit and convenience ahead of its duty to inform the public. The fixation with celebrities, disasters, and crime; the reliance on the strategic frame at the expense of reporting on policy problems and issues; the habit of decontextualizing events—these and other journalistic tendencies have kept the news from being as informative as it could and should be. (p. 141).
Journalists’ civic contribution will ultimately rest on whether through knowledge they are able to assert greater control over the facts. Journalists will falter, and ultimately fail, if their set of “facts” is seen by the public as little better than those offered up by talk show hosts, bloggers, and spin doctors. Knowledge offers journalists their best chance of delivering an authoritative version of the news… (p. 143)