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What You Don’t Know

Feb 20, 2009

Note: With this entry, we go to a five-day-a-week schedule at All Together Now, producing a new item Mondays through Fridays. We’ll take the weekend off to work on other projects, including, we hope, greater involvement in the Vermont Progressive Party.

The Washington press corps has undergone a sea change in the past few years, with mainstream domestic media coverage down by over half and a marked rise in so-called niche outlets. These latter serve special interests with high-priced newsletters and subscription-based web sites that help special corporate interests learn how to press their agenda on Congress and the White House.

The New Washington Press Corp: A Special Report, written by journalist Tyler Marshall and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism relates a sad tale of a marked decline in coverage by outlets serving the public, which typically have an investigative slant to their reporting. Fewer than half the states have newspapers with Washington, D.C., bureaus. Wire and newspaper outlets accredited to cover Congress have plummeted from over 550 in 1985 to 160 in 2007, before the latest round of cutbacks. Only 32 of 1,400 newspapers had bureaus in Washington at the start of 2008 and is probably down to about 25 today. Many bureaus (Newhouse, Copley, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant) have closed altogether.

What used to be a tiny market of niche publications serving specialty interests, and looked down on by citizen-based media, have exploded in recent years. Bloomberg News is perhaps the best known. Some tidbits are available on its web site, but the cream is reserved for 275,000 clients worldwide who pay over $18,000 a year for access. These publications serve corporate and lobbyist interests and are rapidly supplanting news coverage that serves the public good.

Among the report’s conclusions: “Those influencing policy have access to more information then ever, while those affected by those policies—but not organized to shape them—are less likely to be informed.”

In tough economic times, the situation is only going to get worse. As D.C. reporting becomes less about keeping a watchful eye out for abuse, waste, corruption, and cronyism at the center of world power, and more about gathering useful intelligence for the purpose of advancing narrow corporate interests, the thirty-year trend toward vast inequities in wealth amid growing poverty and a declining middle class will only accelerate, imperiling our democracy.
tags: Media | Politics

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