Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

Avedon has a good post on the current U.S. newspaper crisis at The Sideshow, saying this among other things:
One reason it's been so easy for the right-wing to attack the media as "liberal elites" is because the elite part rings so true when the news media spends so much time talking up concerns and goals that are common to no one you know, and tells you so little of what you need to know to prevent it from destroying your world. They're not going to make, "If you have a boss, you need a union," a headline on their front page.
I still wonder, though, why so few people seem to turn to alternative news sources. If the newspaper you subscribe to "spends so much time talking up concerns and goals that are common to no one you know," why not look for a publication that prints stories that do interest you? I'm not sure that Americans, as a people, have ever paid that much attention to the news, beyond the headlines, and the headlines are often misleading. I used to work with a man who would point out to me this or that alarming headline in the local paper; I'd read the whole story, and point out that the closing paragraphs contained information that modified, mitigated, or even contradicted the headline. But it never occurred to him to do the same thing; the next week he'd have another headline to try to scare me with. The information we need is out there, and it's not that hard to get, but people won't look at it.

It doesn't help that as the big corporations that run the newspapers demand that costs be cut by getting rid of reporters, the quality of the content is bound to drop. It's so much easier to write and print "lifestyle" pieces, for which there is a place, but those people who do want serious news coverage are going to get frustrated by the increasingly tabloid quality of what the papers print. (Elite pundits' fascination, not to say obsession, with lifestyle aspects of the Obama administration -- Michelle's shoulders, the White House puppy, the iPod for the Queen and the DVDs for the Prime Minister -- and their often expressed distaste for policy issues are a prime example of this problem.) Fewer people subscribe, and costs have to be cut more.

This story at the Indianapolis Star, one of the more conservative papers in the Midwest, ran on the front page of the print edition with the headline "Business vs. Workers." When I saw it yesterday at the public library I immediately thought, "Wait a minute -- aren't workers part of business?" That's the myth employers often want to put over on their workers, of course: we want you to see yourself as part of the X family -- for X, read Wal-Mart, Exxon, Bank of America, or Republic Windows and Doors. (There's good recent news about that last story, by the way: "The Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Friday that Republic Windows & Doors violated federal labor laws when it created another company in order to skirt bargaining with its union." Unfortunately the family is often dysfunctional, even abusive.) And it's true for those attending to the real world that a business can't function without people working in it, a lamentable fact that many employers wish could be changed. It was a mild shock to see a right-wing newspaper make it explicit in its lead story that the interests of owners and management are not necessarily those of most workers. That, as Avedon said, is why workers need unions. The bosses are organized, why shouldn't the workers be? You all know the premise of slasher movies: the besieged teens agree not to leave the group and wander off alone -- but they always do, and the killer picks them off one by one.

The Star story is surprisingly balanced, in the best journalistic sense. It ends with an interesting quotation from a construction worker in Kokomo who has
worked on such projects as Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, professional sports stadiums for which lawmakers are considering a bailout. If lawmakers can help the wealthy users of those stadiums, he said, they also should help the people who built them.
You'd think so, wouldn't you? But that would be Class War.