Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Interview: Craig Aaron says there is a yearning for "serious journalism and meaningful debate out there"

This is the second of three articles spanning my discussion with Craig Aaron. The first piece is available here.


Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Like actors on tour, issues enter and exit America’s political stage. Debate rages, then quells, and is often forgotten -- if not rewritten -- in the pages of history.
One topic that manages to remain en vogue, though, is media bias. Both sides of the aisle claim that powerful press agencies have stacked the cards against them. They say it is all but impossible for the whole story to be told because certain individuals have no interest in truth.
Where there’s smoke there must also be fire, correct?
An interesting, not to mention important, question for our day and age. The dawn of Donald Trump's presidency ignited a firestorm of scrutiny toward media figures. There has likely never been a time during which so much distrust and hostility flows at our supposed 'guardians of democracy'.

When the public no longer, on a general basis, places stock in the watchmen-and-women-on-the-wall, it does not take a clairvoyant fellow to see that dark storm clouds are on the horizon.
Troubles brewing within our national media go back long before the Donald took his famous ride down the escalator, though. Craig Aaron, as well as the group he leads, have watched with a keen eye as the dismay unfolded. 
"Craig has led Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund since 2011," his biography at FP explains. "For more than a decade, he has been a leader in major campaigns to safeguard Net Neutrality, stop media mergers and consolidation, oppose unchecked surveillance, defend public media and sustain quality journalism. He works in Washington and speaks often to the press and the public on media and technology issues. He has written for The Daily Beast, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Hill, MSNBC, Politico, The Progressive, The Seattle Times, Slate and many other outlets. Before joining Free Press, he was an investigative reporter for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and the managing editor of In These Times magazine. He is the editor of two books, Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times and Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism."
Aaron recentl spoke with me about many issues relevant to the American media. Some of our conversation is included below.


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Joseph Ford Cotto: Print publications, by and large, are going -- or have gone -- the way of the dinosaurs. Internet news outlets, meanwhile, are flourishing. What has been the most important consequence of this?

Craig Aaron: I think the biggest problem is at the local level. While national outlets are generally doing OK, it’s gotten a lot harder to find out what’s happening in your community. That’s where the greatest need is and where the decimation of the print media is most problematic. The solution isn’t propping up what worked before, but to find need new answers -- and new sources of money -- to support what’s missing. These are the kinds of issues we’re looking at in our News Voices project, which is bringing together local journalists and community leaders to figure out new ways of doing things and to recognize that they’re all in it together.

Cotto: Today, anyone can favor a news outlet on the basis of his or her political stances. Such a thing makes media bias an advantageous for certain outlets who seek to provide a profitable echo chamber. Why is there such a market for echo chambers in today's media landscape?  

Aaron: That’s probably a question for a psychologist. For sure, we’re all drawn to the sources that reaffirm our biases and values. But I think there’s actually a much greater hunger for serious journalism and meaningful debate out there -- it’s just that the dominant media outlets online and off know they can get people riled up and tuned in by pushing certain buttons. It’s much more expensive -- but desperately needed -- for the media to invest in serious investigative, in-depth and explanatory reporting, especially at the local level. But we’re going to need to find new models to support the news we actually need to keep this democracy going.

Cotto: Despite having unparalleled access to news outlets which confirm one's view of reality, a majority of Americans view the press itself negatively. To what can one chalk up this odd state of affairs?

Aaron: I worry about this a lot because we really need a strong and adversarial press to hold our government and corporate leaders accountable. But I think the first step to restoring the reputation of the press is to acknowledge that people have good reason to distrust the media. The fact is that the press has mistreated or ignored many communities, and a lot of what passes for news is just infotainment.

I believe if we reinvest in reporters and news-gathering, get back out into local communities, and are much more transparent about both our methods and our biases, then people would trust the press a lot more. We need more journalists asking not how they can get the public on their side but how they can get on the side of the public.

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