EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1991, Nathaniel Blumberg launched the Treasure State Review of Journalism and Justice, an occasional critique of journalism here and elsewhere that appeared until 1999. This excerpt from the first issue explains why.
Back in 1958, a little more than a year after I arrived as dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism, I founded the first journalism review in the United States – the Montana Journalism Review. It seemed to me at the time that the American press, watchdog of the government under our Constitution, needed a watchdog itself. Three years later the Columbia Journalism Review was established, to be followed by others. Hardly any survive.
Now, in the first year of the last decade of the 20th century, it is clear that the news media in Montana and the United States more than ever require some concentrated surveillance. The time has come for another attempt to establish a review, and this time it is a review not only of journalism but of what under our system of government is the ultimate goal of journalism: Justice.
The citizens of our state and our nation deserve something better than what we have received from many publishers and editors, reporters and correspondents, columnists and commentators, politicians and bureaucrats, lawyers and judges.
Journalism and justice in the United States have never been more in need of a tough new evaluation. Nationally, newspapers continue to merge or die or fall into the clutches of money-grubbing chains – often a fate worse than death. A few conglomerates with no experience in journalism and a concealed political and economic agenda control many of our most influential media outlets. So-called newsmagazines have been turned into glitzy, trendy vehicles of trash.
In Montana, where the press, with notable exceptions, was used as a tool of corruption by out-of-state corporations for the first six decades of this century, the situation has taken a notable turn for the worse. The Gannett chain, famed for its innovative typographical devices, skim-the-surface reporting and slippery sense of journalistic ethics, has taken over the Great Falls Tribune, once a splendid locally-owned daily, and the Lee chain has abandoned the excellent performance and high promise that peaked in the 1970s.
Letters and clippings and phone calls from scores of my friends and former students confirm that the newspaper profession has been taken over by corporations with no understanding of the responsibilities of journalism in a free society. These corporations display an overwhelming passion for MBAs and hacks whose sole interest is the highest possible profit for owners and stockholders.
United Press International, losing money and slowly dying for two decades, is passing through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and id dead as a competitior of the Associated Press. Thus more than 90 percent of the nation’s dailies are at the mercy of the AP wire service monopoly. The three major television networks were taken over in the mid-1980s within one 18-month period, and Loews Corporation (CBS), General Electric (NBC) and Capital Cities Communications (ABC) are three tough corporate outfits with histories that can use some public disclosure.
These conditions, and many similar perplexing situations, will be examined in forthcoming issues.
We also intend to devote attention to the many good things happening in journalism and justice and to those who make them happen.
As a onetime University of Montana historian/philosopher has written, “For any living thing to come to birth, the conditions must be just right.” We will test the conditions in these last days of the second millenium to discover if there is a place for the information offered by the Treasure State Review. For this forum, we welcome contributions related to journalism and justice, news tips, items of interest and pertinent comment.