Saturday, October 5, 2013

You Can't Blame Public Officials for the Failure of Reporters

Al Jazeera makes an absolutely superb point.   It's the responsibility of journalists to hold public officials accountable.  As Al Jazeera correctly reports, the coverage of the government's shutdown fails that test.

Do your own test.   Go to the website of your local TV station.  What video interview do you find of your member of Congress where the reporter is asking intelligent and probing questions about the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).   Does the reporter ask the member of Congress to explain why healthcare in this country is so poor compared to other nations?   The World Health Organization ranks the United States 38th.   That's right, 38th.   We are number 1 in cost.   In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation where tens of thousands of families go bankrupt every year from medical bills.   Why is that happening?   Have your local reporters asked your members of Congress?

If the answer is no, write to the general managers of your local television stations and ask one question:  why should your license to broadcast be renewed?

Do another test.   Do a Google or Yahoo search for football concussions.   You'll find millions of results.

But among those results, you will not find an interview with a university president where he/she is asked a basic fundamental question:   if the mission of the university is education, why do you support a sport that causes brain damage?   And as tuition and student debt keep going up, how do you justify charging fees to the academic students to pay for a sport that causes brain damage?   There are a handful of schools where athletics make money.   But at most universities, the athletic department is a multimillion dollar budget hole universities plug by charging fees to the academic students.   At Kent State University where I teach, if a student takes a 3-credit journalism course from me, the student pays $24/credit hour ($72) to the athletic department.   If the student is living in Cincinnati and takes a 3-credit online course and never sets foot on campus, the student still pays the same $24/credit hour fee to the athletic department.  

This is the important point:  it's totally unfair to blame university presidents for failing to address the issue when reporters don't ask the question.   Where are the reporters?   How do you explain that with all the coverage there has been on the dangers of football concussions, we don't have reporters asking university presidents about the potential cost of concussion-related litigation?  

This is an obvious story for sports reporters, education reporters, health reporters, economic reporters, even entertainment reporters (football is entertainment, it's just entertainment that causes brain damage).

So where are the interviews?   Why do we have so many cheerleaders and pom pom wavers and so few reporters?   There are reporters working for Frontline.   Be sure to watch its special this Tuesday evening, League of Denial.   When it comes to the risk and permanent brain damage caused by football concussions, it appears most of America's news organizations are taking the same approach the NFL did - denying reality.

Here are two video clips from two highly knowledgeable attorneys worth a listen.  Watch and listen and ask once again:  why aren't reporters in local markets across the country questioning university presidents about the issue of football concussions?  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.



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