The new book The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols, does quite a bit of tap dancing around its subject, meditating on what bad news it is that America's mass news media are in such dire straits, and what bad news that is for democracy.
All of which is something most of us already know. At the book's core, though, McChesney and Nichols do present several ideas for renewing American journalism and making it stronger. Besides making improved use of the Internet, and moving more toward non-profit or low-profit organizational structures, they also suggest a number of proposals for explicit governmental support or subsidies for news media. (Northwest connection: The author's main research assistant was R. Jamil Jonna of the University of Oregon.)
This is less radical than it sounds, even in the United States. (A number of other countries, especially in Europe, do provide governmental underwriting for man news organizations, and the news environment generally is livelier than it is here and no less critical of its governments.) American support of news media goes well beyond the first amendment; it also includes special cut rates for media postage and contracts for printers.
You wonder what else it might include, though.
The tri-county (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) Oregon entity called Metro, which manages a number of regional services, probably isn't covered as much as it should be by local news media whose reporting ranks have been thinning. So, although itself financially pressed, it has decided on a new job opening:
Metro is seeking to fill a temporary position for a part-time news reporter. The reporter will attend a variety of community meetings and events about growth management and community investment priorities and provide objective, written news coverage of those meetings and events. The reporter also will take photographs, and when appropriate, may be asked to produce short, simple video clips of people offering short comments. Metro will provide for use of cameras and computer equipment if needed.
The announcement says specifically that the agency won't edit for content, and that it expects some of the reports will be critical of it. It says, at least, that it wants to hire a neutral reporter.
Why? The agency's communication director Jim Middaugh, was quoted in the Willamette Week, “There’s nobody watching us really. The goal of this is transparency … The intent is to get out information even if it’s critical.”
The future of journalism? Is this the first of many more? And what will it mean?
Haven't seen anything about this in the Oregonian yet . . .