(Author's note: This post was written amid the comparatively quaint media landscape of 2005. Things have gotten 100x crazier and more difficult to sort out and rationalize since then. Enjoy.)
I got an incredulous e-mail in response to my post about journalists being conservative, and -- even though it was more or less a play on words and meanings --I thought a brief follow-up would be in order.
OK, I'll admit it. Most journalists are relatively progressive in their politics. Recent surveys once again have demonstrated this.
Now, I will tell you (1) why this is the case, and (2) why it's a non-issue:
1. Journalists generally don't enter the profession to make a boatload of money. If money was their goal, they would apply their college educations and insatiable curiosity in more profitable directions. Young people enter journalism, for the most part, because they want to make a difference. Their egos are fed not by the money they make, but by the impact they have. Journalists have impact by causing change. And change is inherently anti-conservative (although not necessarily anti-Republican.)
2. While individual journalists tend to be progressive, virtually all major media organizations are owned by large corporations that are inherently conservative. There are a small handful of exceptions, but for the most part, companies like General Electric, Disney, News Corp. and Time Warner control our media -- and these organizations have a very strong interest in maintaining the status quo.
So individual media members and their corporate owners are fundamentally at cross-purposes -- like an evenly divided Congress that produces mostly gridlock.
The media is in gridlock today, compared to 30 years ago. Do you think a Woodward and Bernstein could emerge today? I don't. In 2005, the media too often allows the political parties to dictate the agenda, instead of acting as an independent "fourth estate."
I think our only hope may be a return to the advocacy journalism that was so common in our country's past. By advocacy journalism, I don't mean radio or TV loudmouths who spout their political party's talking points and pretend it's their own opinion. I mean advocacy journalism in the style of the reform newspapers of the 19th century -- like William Lloyd Garrison's the Liberator, which beat the drum of abolitionism for 34 years before the rest of the country came around.
Bloggers have a better chance of being this century's William Lloyd Garrisons than traditional journalists do. Bloggers can afford to be truly independent. They can be the journalist-advocates for critical but neglected issues such as poverty and the environment. I encourage all bloggers to take advantage of their opportunity to have an impact.