Claims that we have entered the “post-integrity age of journalism” falsely assume an “integrity age” preceded it 4/7/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Integrity.
On one of their excellent weekly podcasts on tech journalism, hosts David Strom and Paul Gillin elicited a profound quote from a guest. Venture capitalist Bill Frezza of Adams Capital Management said, “we are in the post-integrity age of journalism,” expressing his concern that in the new, online news environment, deep-pocketed advertisers can easily sway the published opinions of cash and attention-starved bloggers with just a little bit of advertising. This concern about advertisers influencing content is nothing new. It has been a rallying cry for a century among mainstream outlets, purportedly serving the noble cause of “journalistic independence,” but actually serving the much less noble cause of allowing journalists to write whatever they want to write.
But, it’s unfortunate that journalists have spent so much time worrying about how the private sector might distort their news, while ignoring the only news-distorter that concerned the founding fathers — the federal government. On a daily basis, journalists have been routinely cutting news-distorting deals with public figures, not in exchange for advertising, but in exchange for superior access for interviews. Even Tim Russert, admired by the press corps for his allegedly tough, adversarial journalism, testified under oath that all his conversations with government officials are presumed to be confidential, and he never reports anything unless given explicit permission in advance. Which is to say, it will be hard for American journalism to have a “post-integrity era” when they never had an “integrity era” that preceded it.