My days working in the New York State Legislature — 1994-1995, pre-law school, right after graduation from college, as a Legislative Aide to a member of the Assembly — vividly and starkly illustrated to me the need for beat reporters to observe, question, fact-check and, most importantly, report on the goings-on in state capitols. Even with the fine journalism of the Albany Times-Union and the Troy Record, sometimes the best scoops came from the student-run Legislative Gazette (which, when I was in Albany, was generally not available outside of the Legislative Office Building (LOB)). Even with three newspapers, there was limited space to report on all of the goings-on; to bring sunshine to the dim hallways of the LOB. But the newspapers (overall) did their job of keeping the public informed well — they undoubtedly kept some people more honest than they might have been.
Contrast that with the recent explanations offered by CNBC’s Jim Cramer with regard to the errors made by his 24-hour news network: “We’ve got 17 hours of live TV a day to do.” Sadly, in 2009, while these cable news networks, desparate to fill airtime with whatever they can, become many people’s main source of news, traditional print media is atrophying.
We can’t “bail out” the press without losing freedom of the press, so how can private citizens help save the print news media (which, if there had been better and more investigative journalism, may have prevented, among other debacles, Madoff, Iraq, Bear Stearns, AIG, as well as expose potential problems at the state and local level?) Let’s start by *buying* a subscription to our *local* newspaper. I have far more faith in the print media to publicize and expose governmental activity than the current state of television news. Of course, people need to actually read the paper, but a good start to keeping the best of American journalism afloat is to actually buy state and local newspapers. Let’s do this before our state and local papers disappear and we suffer even more consequences of the massive erosion of transparency and accountability.