Discussion Piece: Why We Need a National Endowment for Journalism
So what’s the problem? Industry insiders blame the Internet for all of newspapers’ woes. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Here’s my basic take on what really happened: As control of papers and other news sources were consolidated and corporatized over the last decade, decision making was wrested away from editors and publishers who actually know and care about journalism, and into the hands of businessmen and boards of directors who brought the wisdom of the business world to newspapers… and promptly ran them into the ground.
That’s exactly what happened to radio and the music biz. Record companies used to be owned and run by people who loved music, but once these companies became very successful they were bought by large corporations. Musicians and producers (e.g. Arif Mardin at Atlantic) gave way to the suits – business graduates, attorneys and CEOs. Owners gave way to presidents and CEOs who catered to stockholders and for whom it was most important to get the biggest four-year pay-off.
Suddenly, making a cool recording which then became an album and sold a ton of copies turned into maximizing profits and controlling the market.
Once radio stations became giant corporate entities, the accountants took over. After your company spent 115 million dollars on buying a radio station, you had to make sure the debt could be serviced… You couldn’t possibly trust the music director’s taste. You had to be sure. So you ordered research to help the music selection process. You found a company who sent employees to the mall with a stack of forms and a few CDs of music. They would ask people in the mall to listen to 20-30 seconds of any given song and to rate it on a scale… Meanwhile the Program Director jumped out of the window, maybe because he saw that radio had nothing to do with music anymore.
Something awful happened when record companies, radio stations and then newspapers became too corporate. I am all for making a profit, but should one start one’s day focused on profit? Shouldn’t we create music, broadcast music and print news because that’s what gets us excited and worked up?
I find there is a void, a gaping hole that cannot be replaced. A void where good DJs once played a meaningful set of music, combining songs I knew with strange and unfamiliar tunes – instead of merely reading the names of songs and artists, put together in advance by a computer program, from a screen. A void where people in the music business helped artists in their struggle for expression and where journalists were free to pursue news-items that might not be popular…
Maybe the void will get filled again, once these giant corporations go up in smoke.