In 1997, Henry Payne, the political cartoonist for the Detroit News and editor of TheMichiganView.com, was in Washington DC for a press conference on the international agreement on climate change called the Kyoto Protocol. Payne recalled the first question of the press conference was asked by the New York Times environmental reporter.
“How do we get Americans to stop driving SUVs?” Payne quotes the reporter as asking.Payne said the rest of the press conference was “simple cheerleading” by reporters. Kyoto set binding agreements for 37 countries for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; the U.S. Senate refused to ratify U.S. participation.
Payne used the anecdote during a panel discussion about new media conducted October 21 by TheMichiganView.com and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based research and education institution. Payne said the incident was an example of why the evolving new media is needed to get different perspectives to news consumers.Moving forward to recent history, Payne pointed out that during the last couple of years the “Climategate” scandal has become a household word despite the mainstream media’s reluctance to report it.
Climategate refers to the release of thousands of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit in England by a whistleblower. The emails showed the disdain some of the researchers harbored toward scientists with differing views and appeared to provide evidence of researchers suppressing information that undermined their position on global warming policy. Publication of the e-mails led to allegations of misconduct in global warming research.Payne noted it was Fox News and news Web sites on the Internet that led the reporting on Climategate, while the Detroit Free Press, New York Times, and old-guard established media generally ignored the story or buried it.
“There will never be a mainstream news media anymore,” said Ken Braun, managing editor of
Michigan Capitol Confidential
(a news Web site launched in February by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy) and part of the five-person media panel. “It is becoming what I call a multi-stream media. That’s the future we are headed to.”
That future will still include traditional newspapers and TV stations but will have a large component of blogs and niche news sites, Braun said.Michigan Capitol Confidential and The Michigan View, a political news Web site launched in June by the Payne and associated with the Detroit News, have been started at a time when the traditional media has been making cuts to its workforce.Newspapers have been cutting staff for the past two years. For example, in 2000 Michigan’s Lansing State Journal had four reporters on a state capitol reporting team. That team is gone.Today, two Detroit Free Press reporters, who work for the same Gannett Corporation that owns the Lansing State Journal, provide the Lansing newspaper’s capitol coverage and work out of the Lansing newspaper’s office.
TV stations are also experiencing continual budget cuts.
“Newsrooms at television stations are being gutted,” said Kathy Hoekstra, a communications specialist at the Mackinac Center for the last two years. She was previously a broadcast journalist at a local television news station for nearly a dozen years.Hoekstra said TV stations are hiring young reporters “who have never learned how government worked,” while experienced reporters have barely enough time to get out the regular news of the day.
“No one is left to act as a watchdog for government,” said Hoekstra. “There is little to no investigative effort [at the old-guard media]. I do find it astonishing that I had to leave television news to do real, meaningful, journalism.”
Hoekstra did the story exposing how filmmaker Michael Moore’s movie Capitalism: A Love Story had qualified for a lavish refundable tax credit from the state of Michigan paid for by the state’s taxpayers. The film criticized Wall Street for taking the bailout and taxpayers’ money.
Tom Gantert ([email protected]) writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan. An earlier version of this article appeared in the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Capitol Confidential. Reprinted with permission.