One of the unintended consequences of the closing of the school of journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder is yet another blow to our commitment to “freedom of the press” enumerated in the first amendment of the US Constitution.
The school of journalism has always tried to educate new “reporters” so that they can leave the university and have the skills needed to cover city councils as well as county, state, and federal governments and private businesses — and do their best to keep them honest.
We are witnessing the death of good “reporting” in this country, and that loss threatens our republic far more than anything an extreme left- or right wing government could ever do.
Note that I use the word “reporting.” Good journalism can be delivered through broadcasts, in print, and on the Web. However, the men and women who have written the most important stories of our time came with degrees from schools of journalism. When it comes to journalism, you get what your training has prepared you for.
What you get is better government, on every level. A city councilman in a small town was paving the driveways of friends with taxpayer asphalt. The local newspaper ran a story, the crook resigned, and his corrupt practice came to a grinding halt.
Not too long ago, The Daily Telegraph, a London newspaper, found that dozens of members of Parliament were fleecing the public by billing the government for personal expenses such as cleaning a private moat. This expose, months in the making, emerged on the paper’s website as well as in print. The worst offenders felt the wrath of the voters in the subsequent election.
In many discussions about the journalism crisis — and it is a crisis — too much attention is being spent on media itself. It’s not bloggers versus newspapers or “new media” against the old. That’s like arguing about chairs versus bleachers on the decks of the Titanic. To best keep a check on government, you need trained reporters who can follow a complex story, editorial supervision to guide them, and the resources to stay independent. How the news gets out is not as important as the fact that it does get out by trained individuals.
When newspaper reporters are not properly trained, then news doesn’t properly get out. While every despotic country around the world is tyrannical in its own way, the one thing they all have in common is repression of a free press. Corrupt leaders, from small-town driveway pavers to murderous thugs, cannot abide the bright light of independent reporting and commentary.
The crisis in the American press is much more than a series of sad stories in the business journals around the country. When American steel mills shut down, construction companies could still buy I-beams. When clothiers went overseas, there was no shortage of shirts and suits. But nothing from foreign shores can replace the power of the American press. The closing of a journalism school is portends a crisis far more threatening than the problems with our banks and insurance companies.
Various people are trying to figure out how to keep doing good reporting and get paid for it. We need to encourage them and support their efforts, and educate them, for they are of vital importance to us as individuals and as a nation.
All of us have much more of our freedoms at stake than we think with the closing of the school of journalism at the University of Colorado.
Jim Martin is a former CU Regent.