The Slant

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Fade to Yellow

By: Roderick Reed
By: Roderick Reed

Of course it is old school. Of course it informs. Of course it is dependable, factual and reflects the human condition. And of course not enough people pay attention to it. This is the way it is today. Anyone who expects journalism to be thriving is a dreamer or a fool. But anyone who reads a newspaper and doesn’t get something from it wasn’t paying attention.

Journalism is melting. Your local newspaper or your major paper may be barely surviving due to the pressure on those organizations to pay their bills, resulting in layoffs and pay decreases. This very paper, The Independent, last year imposed cost cuts. They discontinued pay to LB Indy columnists last May and reduced the frequency of most contributors to the Newport Indy by half. These cuts came close to the cutback goal, protecting the news report.

The state of journalism should alarm us. Access to reliable information is paramount in our culture. Freedom of the press is important to us. The demise of quality journalism in this country won’t be the way we see it in Russia, China or North Korea, where the news manipulated. In our country we are allowing ourselves to receive unreliable, sensationalized information and call it news willingly. Some of the problem is that anybody can write anything and put it out there. Even legitimate, established news organizations in the rush to be “first” simply quote other news sources. A local TV news report the other morning cited a source that would not strike most as reliable. At the end of the story, the gentleman added “the report could not be verified.” Why report it then? I’ll tell you why. It had a catchy headline and it was easier to report someone else’s news unchecked.

In this country we have traveled down a different road, heading in about the same place. In our case the bad journalism wasn’t the fault of a heavy handed government, but by us. The legitimate, reliable press can’t survive if we don’t pay writers to write, and editors to verify and edit, etc. All coming from organizations that have a reputation to protect.

The Good. There is some great journalism out there. For instance, The Daily Breeze in Torrance. The results came in last Monday, delighting staffers. Its seven-reporter newsroom, learned they had just won their first-ever Pulitzer Prize.

The 63,000-circulation newspaper in Torrance took the award for local reporting with a six-month investigation that revealed possible corruption in a cash-strapped school district. More than 50 stories by reporters Rob Kuznia and Rebecca Kimitch resulted in the removal of the Centinela Valley Union High School District’s highly paid superintendent.

Their reporting also prompted state legislation to prevent excessive compensation.

The Bad. Unfortunately, the lead reporter on the winning story left journalism six months ago. At 39, the career he so loved, barely paid his bills. Six months into his job at the Breeze, he had to take a pay cut. While friends his age were buying homes, he was still renting and driving his old Honda, built in 1989. He won the Pulitzer Prize and sadly can’t afford to stay in journalism.

The Ugly: A new generation who get their information from blogs and hearsay over the web will likely grow up not believing what they read, or even know when they should. Journalism seems more and more comfortable being based upon sensationalism and exaggeration. When writers make a living at presenting legitimate well-researched news we win. When instead they use eye-catching headlines and other techniques that include exaggeration and sensationalism we as a society lose. This is the definition of yellow journalism. In my opinion, it’s a direction we are more at ease with than we should.

The pendulum always swings. Someday in the future with yellow journalism pervasive someone will speak out and legitimate writing and reporting will again be the norm. We are not at the yellow phase yet, but it seems we are swinging that way.

Congratulations Rob Kuznia.

Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack.


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