Right now I would have to say that journalism is failing in two of its primary roles – informing the public and acting as a watchdog over the government.
At church today, our pastor informed us that we should be as generous as we could during a special collection the Church was taking up for Hurricane Ike victims in Galveston. The reason, he said, was that FEMA is out of money. FEMA has quietly and privately told the Archbishop this sad fact.
Where is the media attention?
After Hurricane Katrina there was non-stop coverage for months about New Orleans. Galveston worse off than New Orleans. The Big Easy was never fully flooded. Many neighborhoods were flooded, but the downtown areas were not hard hit – the major tourism areas survived. Galveston was flooded nearly from one end of the island to the other. There are almost no homes or apartments suitable for people to live in on the island. Insurance companies and FEMA are not paying out for repairs or are doing so slowly.
Here in Houston, we’ve had it much better, however, there are still thousands of homes with damaged roofs, pulled up carpeting, and walls with sheet rock cut out to deter mold. There are many families who may never return to their homes or will have to demolish their home. In several communities, homeowners have been told they will have to raise their homes or demolish them.
During the Ike disaster, the federal government was able to spend more than $800 billion to bail out the banks at the same time FEMA was shutting down PODs (where they handed out MREs, water and ice). Power had not been restored to more than 500,000 people in the Houston area at the time they were shutting the PODs down.
Where is the reporting on all this?
With all the cutbacks in the media, no one is digging past the boring and banal stories about “Joe Citizen” living in a tent outside his house on Galveston Island or the press conferences given by FEMA and the mayor’s office.
Now, I think that journalism will survive and eventually thrive on the Internet, but the lack of quality journalism right now is shocking. It is bad for our democracy. It is allowing the government to get away with bailing out Wall Street fat cats, while they ignore the little guy whose home was flattened by a Hurricane.
And this week the Nation was treated to Chris Matthews saying, “I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work.” Now, I understand that he is a commentator and not a journalist. But that line gets blurred a little more every day at MSNBC, FOX and CNN.
And this is happening at the same time that newspapers are hemorrhaging staff and taking a chain saw to page count. In the midst of this atmosphere who is going to keep the government accountable?
As a journalism teacher, I feel we must hold our students to a higher standard. We should instill in them a desire to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.