2009-08-06 / Sam Bari

The new world power

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “reality TV network,” and Roger Vaughn, a Jamestown summer resident, as well as a faithful and cherished reader, responded with an interesting and valid point. The column voiced concerns about the over-use of surveillance cameras by every level of government, possibly invading our privacy.

Roger pointed out that at least we have recourse should we feel that any level of government has violated our constitutional rights. We can challenge the authorities if the need arises.

However, I hope to never see a court document that says, “Sam Bari vs. the United States of America.” The thought of that is intimidating. The chances of winning cases against the government are generally slim and costly. Even though I believe the government as a whole often forgets they work for us, not the other way around, when challenged, it is a formidable opponent.

Nonetheless, Roger brought to light a much more dangerous and untamed juggernaut that is far guiltier than any level of government for having little regard for anyone’s rights or privacy. That is — the dreaded mass media.

The media’s original concept of reporting unbiased and newsworthy events has been compromised. The industry is seriously out of control. The groundwork of the news greats who set the guidelines when broadcast news on radio, then on television, brought news to the public as it was happening has been crushed by a proverbial renegade steamroller.

When John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, and, at that time, a young Peter Jennings reported the news, a strict code of conduct set the protocol. Fundamental newspaper policies were adapted to fit the broadcast format. Citizens’ rights were protected by a self-governing industry comprised of responsible reporters that upheld the integrity of their profession.

Then, in 1952, Italian publisher Generoso Pope, Jr. brought New York’s National Enquirer to the forefront and set the pace for sensationalizing the news with the introduction of the tabloid. “Inquiring

Minds Want to Know” was its mantra, and Enquirer staffers were infamous for fabricating incredible stories to create sales with enticing headlines that attracted readers who still held the naïve belief that “they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.”

After surviving several costly lawsuits, Pope moved the paper from New York to Florida, and tamed the content to concentrate more on supernatural phenomenon, miracle diets and celebrity gossip. But the paper had a circulation of 3,000,000 before changing its policies, which still appealed to the same scandal-hungry audience.

While the Enquirer went mainstream, tabloids from across the Atlantic popped up and a new category of news publications followed in Pope’s footsteps. The tabloids quickly became a profitable industry in both the U. S. and Europe.

The 1970s and 1980s introduced cable TV, giving the three major networks sudden and massive competition with hundreds of cable networks invading the airwaves. Soon, Ted Turner shocked the world with 24-hour news networks that not only survived, but flourished. Now, the voracious appetite of the news industry opened the floodgates for anyone with a camera, pocket tape recorder, and a tablet and pencil to participate.

Human-interest stories that would never have made even a local paper were suddenly international front-page news. The competition was vicious. The big networks and newspaper chains began paying unheard-of dollars for first rights and scoops on stories designed to captivate audiences and boost circulation.

Taste and integrity were overtaken by need and greed. The giant maw of the news industry devoured anything and everything that came its way. In the 1990s, the Internet added to the fray. Unregulated, and easily accessed, the communication capabilities for the average person made the media a public toy.

Now, uneducated paparazzi, not legitimate journalists, physically fight and do whatever is necessary to shoot tasteless and often deceiving pictures and video that can be digitally transferred to anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds. All this for the sake of big dollars that are willingly paid by an industry that is struggling to survive.

Without a doubt, the big newspapers are soon to be history. Explosive advances in technology are controlling the future of the media. Where and how it will end up is a mystery.

However, aware citizens like Roger Vaughn are becoming vocal about their legitimate concerns. Yet the media giants scream for their rights to freedom of the press as they fight to survive in a system we can’t understand.

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