Barbara Walters, How the Media Has Evolved, and Where to Go Next

“Maybe instead of goodbye I should say biento which in French means see you later.” – Barbara Walters

In light of the sad news that Barbara Walters has passed I’d like to take the time to dive into the media and what it was and what it’s become. Barbara was unique in that she endured through this entire evolution from 60 Minutes to The View. 60 Minutes being kind of a relic of the past and how news used to be consumed and The View being representative of this modern trend of jumbling news with commentary and debate.

I think the discussion really needs to start with what journalism is and its purpose. I think one of the most important functions of Journalism is speaking truth to power. So holding governments and people in positions of power to account. Because we can’t just trust the information that we’re given you know by the government or by figures of authority. So journalism in its purest, form is uncovering truth in order to keep power in check. It’s an absolutely essential ingredient to a successful democracy so clearly we’re in a danger zone.

Now the media landscape of today was largely born out of right-wing frustration with the media. Of course it’s not the only source of frustration but in my view likely the most impactful.

“this is what the war on Vietnam is all about that the Marines have burned this old couples Cottage because fire was coming from here now when you walk into the village you see no young people at all…” – Newsclip

We’ve all heard how the Vietnam War changed our perception of military conflict as it brought images and video the likes of which had never been seen before at least by the general public. But in terms of our discussion this is where much of the right’s frustration with the media began. Especially after the coverage of the Tet Offensive in 1968, many were accusing the media of causing the U.S to start losing the war. And when you combine this with the backlash from the anti-war movement, which I’ve talked about before, the perception became that the media and the left were aligned.

Now having grown up in a conservative home distrust of the media was talked about all the time, which is why we were so excited when Fox News launched and gave us another option.

“How did it happen how did television news become so predictable and in some cases so boring few broadcasts take any chances these days and most are very politically correct well we’re going to try to be different welcome to Hannity and combs on the Fox News Channel I’m Sean Hannity each week night at 9 00 PM Eastern Alan and I will bring you an intelligent and passionate discussion of the major news issues of the day…” – Fox News Clip

I know I’m missing quite a bit of history, but this is the sentiment that created the market for alternative media. Media in this country is also tied to powerful big corporations with the launch of shows like the McLaughlin Group, Crossfire, and Hannity and Colems. It was no longer about journalism and instead about what gets the most views. People are naturally drawn to conflict.

This continued commingling of commentary and news captured a lot of eyes, but sewed even more distrust against individual media outlets. Then came the internet, this is Harvard Professor Tom Patterson,

“You know this is like a lot of technological innovations it has some really positive dimensions and some quite negative dimensions and uh you know one of the problems with the internet generally is the degradation of information right uh it’s too easy to get information into the flow and when it’s really easy to get messages into the flow you can almost be guaranteed that the quality of many of those messages is going to be very low…”

All of these new markets created by distrust combined with the ease of access to the internet created an absolute mess of immediate landscape. It no longer even mattered if you were a journalist you could get views today it’s a complete free-for-all and legitimate Outlets are blocked from most of the Public’s view by paywalls. The effect that us political junkies see the most is the near impossibility of legitimate debate because nobody is operating on the same set of facts or whatever the base of their argument consists of. The Silver Lining here is that good information still does exist and it’s very easy to get to people you just have to plow through the weeds first, which is no easy feat.

A couple of ideas that I’ve had in the past are increasing funding the NPR to create a publicly funded news cable channel. Maybe subsidizing Outlets if they meet certain standards they can afford to take down their paywalls. And of course they’re restoring the Fairness Doctrine which for those that don’t know prevents bias by requiring that all sides are conveyed. And it was law in this country at one point.

The reality though is that something needs to be done because our democracy is clearly on the brink, so what say you?


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