Organization site - Summer 2001
Review: The Troubles of Journalism
The Troubles of Journalism
By William A. Hatchen
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001, 232 pages
Anyone who has worked at a major news organization over the past ten years can relate to the argument presented by William A. Hachten in "The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What's Right and Wrong with the Press" (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998). Professor Hachten suggests that, because the media are increasingly driven by their concern for better financial performance, the lines that once distinguished entertainment from journalism have blurred or altogether disappeared. ln his words, "our vast cultural apparatus has engulfed legitimate journalism into a churning melange of entertainment, celebrity, sensation, self-help and merchandising—most of which is driven by corporate entities devoted to advertising, promotion, PR, marketing and, above all, a healthy bottom line."
Professor Hachten illustrates the trend towards sensationalism and trivializing tabloidization of the news media by citing the year-long obsessive coverage of the first O.J. Simpson trial. Professor Hachten's main concern—that "titillating events" cause journalists to "cross the line and become mass entertainers"—could only have turned to outright dismay in the year following the publication of his book, when America's entire news industry declared a 1 2-month holiday to focus on the Clinton-Lewinsky drama.
When news becomes virtually indistinguishable from entertainment, the relationship between journalists and their reading, listening or viewing audiences is altered. According to Professor Hachten, the American public is not very interested in international news—rating it below crime, sports and religion coverage. "This declining audience interest," he writes, "means that as a culture we are missing the connective tissue that binds us to the rest of the world."
Professor Hachten devotes an entire chapter to the under-reporting of African news. "The great majority of Americans, and the press to some extent, [tend] to see Africa as monolithic and homogenous," he writes.
"Americans are unaware of how varied and complex the continent of 800 million is and that these people, languages and cultures are far more diverse than those of Europe." He recommends a Web site (http://www.africanews.org) as one of the few available sources for the African news that is being largely ignored by mainstream news organizations.
The Internet and e-journalism receive rather short shrift by Professor Hachten—hardly a justifiable oversight given his book's 1998 publication date. It is difficult to reconcile his disillusionment over the state of mainstream journalism in the mid-9Os with his hope that the news media can "play an important role by providing reliable, disinterested and professionally sound news and information to counter the wild rumors or just plain gossip on the Internet."
Perhaps the most compelling chapter in "The Troubles of Journalism" is about how colleges and universities educate journalists today. Traditional schools of journalism have largely been converted into schools of mass communication, and Professor Hachten believes something vital is being lost in the process. "By objectively and dispassionately gathering all the important news of the day and making it available to the public, journalism performs an essential public service for our democracy," he writes. "Advertising and PR do not meet this test and could just as easily be taught in a business school."