Career Calling

November 7, 2011

Sabbath, November 6, 2011

[On Sundays, this blog explores intersections of life and work.]

Newspapers, Politicians, and Money

On Friday, November 4, the Chicago Sun-Times devoted its editorial page to the Illinois State Senate and House’s vote to override Governor Quinn’s veto of “smart grid” legislation, which would also result in higher utility bills for consumers.  The paper listed each member of the legislature, how they voted, and how much each received in campaign contribution from the electric industry (Commonwealth Edison and Ameren). 

Were votes bought and sold?  The editors tell readers to look at the facts and “make of that what you will.”  The paper’s cartoonist Jack Higgins was less subtle.  His cartoon depicts hungry dogs surrounding a Com Ed figure who is throwing money in the air.  What do I make of it?  Democracy is for sale in Illinois. 

There is another valuable message in this story: Newspapers still play a vital role in our society.  I like news blogs like Daily Kos and Common Dreams.  But they tend to be a collection of opinions.  They also tend to break down along the left-right ideological lines that dominate our politics.  Newspaper editorials offer more balanced views.  The Chicago Tribune tends to favor a conservative, Republican point of view.  Even so, its editorial board will sometimes push against that ideology.  The Sun-Times editorial board is more of a mixed bag, sometimes left, sometimes right, which forces readers to consider different points of view, a rare thing in our society.

We need newspapers to be the watchdogs on power.  Sadly, the business model hasn’t work so far in an online world where free is the norm.  The New York Time is trying to charge for content, and they have tried in the past.  But the question remains if this important medium will survive technological changes and a public that reads less and less.

When newspapers are gone, and TV news is busy covering fires and Kardashian weddings, big companies will be able to buy votes with even more impunity than they do now.  Politicians will hire even more friends and family.  Those who still read will move to blogs that reinforce their points of view, which will make the current divisions in our political culture even more rigid.  What else will we lose?  Newspapers are a resource that supports our democracy, something that money (especially corporate money) cannot buy. Hopefully, they will find a way to survive.  We need them.

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