You might have heard an apocalyptic scream from local liberal-progressives over the sale of WJAR 10 to Sinclair Media, a conservative conglomerate known for their Trumpish affiliations and absurd guest personalities, which are comprised of individuals who seem slightly reminiscent of either Rush Limbaugh or Darth Vader.
Yet unlike my contemporaries on the Left side of the spectrum, I am jubilant and in love with this development! Woo-hoo!
Before proceeding, I would be remiss if I did not point out that I actually like some of the talent at WJAR, particularly Bill Rappleye’s political reporting.
However, there is also a very bitter truth to accept about that news organization. For roughly 60-odd years now, WJAR has been an industrial standard of national broadcast journalism.
Since it has been affiliated with NBC, dating back to 1963, it has been the minor league farm team where up-and-coming talent like the now disgraced Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira go for their rookie training before premiering on the national stage out of New York. It is the gold standard of local and national broadcast journalism.
We Don’t Need No Gatekeepers
This, of course, gives a certain gatekeeper status to their coverage of Rhode Island news. There are simply stories that don’t get coverage because WJAR doesn’t send a reporter out into the field to give them airtime. In this sense I have a grudging respect for their status and standing. Their quality journalism can be very good. But the stories they do miss are ones we might have been better served by knowing about.
Now, in the span of less than a television broadcast season, that credibility has been pissed away to nothing.
The reason America is in such a mess socially, politically, and spiritually is caused by the mainstream corporate journalism model. And right before our eyes in the past two decades we have witnessed the internet obliterate that model. Yippee!
Why did this happen? Why was mainstream media unable to adapt to the internet when it managed quite well at the dawn of radio and television? It comes down to a mixture of pride and stupidity.
Pride and Stupidity
In the late 1990s, these media corporations had very little understanding of the capability and potential of the internet. It was on the computer. You needed a complicated modem thingy to get to it. And it seemed like a gimmick.
On the other hand, television had been pretty easily understood at first glance back in the 1950s. By contrast, nobody in the boardrooms of American media conglomerates understood nor cared.
The major mistake they made, however, was the fact that, unlike television, everyone could do it. With the boob tube, you had needed to purchase an expensive broadcaster license along with a large package of technology to be housed in a studio. The basic overhead of television news had made it very difficult to buy into.
By contrast, with a few mouse clicks and taps on a keyboard, a blogger could post pictures and text from any corner of the globe for next to no cost. And when this was further complimented by the development of YouTube alongside the perpetuation of the camera phone, all bets were off.
Now we live in a world where a Rodney King video, which beat extraordinary odds against it being broadcast, becomes a daily broadcast occurrence via social media sites like Facebook.
After decades of efforts to democratize the media moving at the snail’s pace via avenues like public access venues (which themselves were pretty awful) we are now witness to a light-speed acceleration of that process. For my entire life as a critical media consumer, I have been waiting with bated breath for this day to come.
A New Dynamic
WJAR is now a relic of the past. The New York Times, which has effectively been a Democratic Party fundraising newsletter for a long time now, is falling on its face daily and hilariously in trying to make up for their pathetic adaptation to the web. The Providence Journal, which has been passing through ownership hands so regularly I sometimes confuse it with a church collection plate, is little more than a broadsheet syndicating news wire stories from AP and Reuters. It’s so light in local writing that a high school paper rivals it in terms of talent diversity.
These are the days that provide a great opportunity to local talents so to create a new system which will replace the old. We can and should use platforms to develop an independent system that once and for all vanquishes the mainstream media system, the very conglomeration of organizations that got us into everything from the Vietnam and Iraq wars to the 2008 recession-causing deregulation of Wall Street.
In this sense I would hope this new venue, which your current reading material is my first submission to, would become one of many such platforms, equivalent to a program broadcast for all to consume.
A New, More Democratic Way
Recently, Edward S. Herman died at 92. In the 1980s, alongside his coauthor Noam Chomsky, he wrote a series of volumes, culminating in the now classic text Manufacturing Consent. In that book, the two put forward what they called “the political economy of the mass media”. Through careful and understandable research, the two showed how the so-called ‘free press’ definitely and undeniably was deeply impacted by a set of five editorial filters that shape a news story in a fashion that favors the elite.
Simultaneously, we also saw the centennial of the Bolshevik revolution. Vladimir Lenin had argued a few years earlier in his writings that the capitalist system has an undeniable and unavoidable tendency towards monopoly, which in turn causes a series of developments that lead a state to declare war.
It is an interesting thing to juxtapose those two matters when considering the conglomeration of Sinclair Media in the Ocean State. Lenin’s other major contribution to philosophy was the notion of ‘dual power’. He argued that, while the legal parliament in Russia functioned in a rubber stamp fashion, the workers and peasant should create community councils, soviets, which would govern in a truly fair and democratic fashion. What happened after those councils took power across Russia is a complex discussion not worth exploring here.
For our purposes, we should consider the opportunity to build dual power within the media ecosystem. Let’s develop and expand existing platforms so to increase our control of what we call the news and assume control in a way that can be truly revolutionary.