The newspaper industry is in decline, and the long-held institution, which was once regarded as the “fourth estate” is has been downsized to a shanty. The former scrutiny that our politicians once endured under the microscope of skilled reporters and investigative journalists is largely nonexistent.
Just ten years ago in Utah there were several local news desks dedicated to holding government leaders and power brokers accountable. Television news once did a great deal of political reporting alongside of the newspapers. This is no longer the case. TV reporters dedicated to politics, like Chris VanOcur in Utah and Rod Decker of KUTV, are a dying breed, the new TV reporter is a non-news reporter but a catastrophe creator and sentimentalization specialist: covering car crashes, gas leaks, fires and missing children. The morning news format is to have reporters dance and tell jokes.
The new media landscape we find ourselves in is certainly affecting our physical landscape. On a national scale we see the “revolving door” politicians and government agency leaders come directly from positions in power in corporations to serve as those who have the most power in government: writing laws, which coincidentally help their corporate buddies, and former employers.
On a local scale we see politicians working with developers and power brokers in backroom deals. Public hearings where citizens are invited to voice their concerns fall on deaf ears and is largely ignored. If the media doesn’t cover public hearings there is no accountability to their constituency.
The result of rampant corporate cronyism is that we fin our growing cities are becoming overrun with chain stores, strip malls and big boxes store. Are these the places you wish to live? Overwhelmingly when public surveys are conducted, the answer is “no”. People want parks, places to walk. More local destinations. Yet cities are built for homogeneous development, devoid of character.
Local politicians without press scrutiny are working with and for developers instead of for locally minded people who inhabit cities. Suburban blight is now showing up all along the Wasatch Front. Abandoned big-box stores are found all over Ogden, Riverton, West Valley and Sandy. But nobody is paying attention to this because all of our news is either sensationalized local fluff, or national news.
They are calling the new information age”the fifth estate“. Some believe that newsrooms with trained journalists are a thing of the past and bloggers can now be responsible for scrutinizing our government leaders. I strongly disagree that this is possible. Just because a person happens to have an opinion, a laptop and a blog and a Twitter account does not make them a reporter. Newsrooms now rely more than ever on bloggers for their news and breaking stories. Newsrooms are maintaining a constant twitter feed analyzing the hashtags in which they are most interested. This is a sorry state of affairs for the “news” business.
Here in Salt Lake City We still have the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune did some good work last year especially in exposing the scandal that our former Attorney General was involved with taking bribes for meetings with Utah con-artists under investigation. But the Deseret News is not nothing more than a mouth-piece for the LDS Church. Gone is the great local coverage their team of writers once offered. Gone are their excellent columnists who reported on every corner of the state. Present now are KLS radio stories showing up on the printed pages of the newspaper. Deseret News now has a national edition, which nobody reads. It’s available downtown free-of-charge every day now. As a great-great-great grandson of the Deseret News founder (Willard Richards), I’m bothered by this weird new breed of paper. And I’m sure both he and Brigham Young would disapprove of their focus on simply just PR for the church.
I’ve kept a close watch on the media since I attended journalism school at the University of Utah. I thought I might attempt to get a job at one of the newspapers when I graduated, but I could see that the stories I had grown up reading and appreciating: the investigations into our community problems, the in-depth human interest stories, this historic stories which shed light on current affairs, and the consistent quality journalism—were all going by the wayside. These stories are being replaced with stories that could be written quickly in a day or two.
This was my reason for starting UtahStories.com in 2006 and Utah Stories magazine in 2009. My experiment was to see there were more residents who valued reading about local businesses; history; investigative journalism and in-depth human interest stories. I was very pleased to find I wasn’t alone. Utah Stories prides itself on being “the voice of local Utah.” We have always relied on our readers to help us achieve this goal, and every summer we set up a booth at the farmers market to talk to our readers to collect story leads and learn what is worth covering.
In our on-going effort to keep an eye on the media in Utah we will be posting a new stories in this section every Sunday. It will mostly be about Utah media, newspapers and the media business in general.
Today’s story is about why Warren Buffet is buying newspapers. I believe Mr. Buffet’s logic is well founded, and there is still a great deal of hope for the fourth estate (journalism) to make it in the information age. Just as long as quality information finds a receptive audience, willing to pay pay reporters for their work.