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CONSCIOUSNESS expanding has given way to consciousness raising has given way to self-consciousness, and the media has not been unaffected. From the first person coming-out columns of the Village Voice to the Arts & Leisure section of the Sunday Times, journalists are exhibiting the same questioning self-awareness of purpose and procedure, the resulting fall-out of the social conflict of the sixties, that has settled on so many aspects of our national life.
Which is not the same as saying that journalism itself--journalism as embodied by the newspapers and magazines and television networks and their subsidiaries--has also embarked on a big, new beautiful tomorrow. The advances in journalism have been made by individuals and the corporate entities have generally resisted their influence. Probably in reflection of their history of family ownership, newspapers today are as reticent as ever in telling tales on themselves. Why, you might ask, is the New York Times so upset by the spectre of the New Populism? Why did the Boston Globe move columnist David Deitch off its editorial pages? And how much would vou wager CBS's ownership of the New York Yankees figured in its coverage of the baseball players' strike? You can speculate on the answers all you want for you are not likely to find them reported by the press itself. (One exception you shouldn't miss is Sanford Ungar's account on the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the May issue of Esquire.)
Embattled on one side by the calculated attacks of a paranoid Agnew (who can't recognize a friend when he has one) and on the other by leftists, feminists, and citizen's interests groups--the press can no longer afford to go on living such an unexamined life. For a year now, (More), a journalism review which hails from New York, has been attempting to lead other, regional journalism reviews in examining the prejudices, failings and occasional accomplishments of the journalistic scene. It's efforts, as might be expected of any innocent in the halls of corruption, have been only sporadically successfull.
As exemplified in its May issue, (More) is best when reporting those internal press stories--like efforts by black staffers on the Washington Post to increase black representation on the paper--which the press itself would leave unreported. (More) is least interesting when simply documenting the self-evident evils--like sexist advertising--that plague journalism. But given that (More) can surmount its provincial perspective amid the newsmen's bars of Manhattan, it has a fair chance of leading the kind of serious self-examination that the established press should be performing on itself on a daily basis.
Last week, in what was essentially a self-promoting publicity effort, (More) held in New York what it called The A.J. Liebling Counter-Convention. Featuring panels on "The...New...Journalism." "The Wayward Pressbus," "Should There Be a Women's Page?," and "Why Journalists Leave Daily Newspapers," the conference offered up a pantheon of journalism's superstars (Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, David Halberstam, J. Anthony Lukas, Studs Terkel, Gloria Steinem, all the lovely people...) and understandably angered those daily journalists who claimed their own concerns underrepresented. There were the requisite number of newspapermen's horror stories (take sexism, for example: when Nixon announced his last batch of Supreme Court candidates, the males under consideration were profiled in the news pages of the Washington Post while the women were relegated to treatment in the Post's Style section) and the even more requisite gossip.
But, when the bitching ended, all that had been accomplished was the painful awareness that without structural reforms journalism is not likely to change its colors. Clearly, there is a more sophisticated reporter waiting in the wings (whether or not he is also a new journalist is a rather moot point) and he wants to cover unconventional stories as well as unconventional angles on quite conventional stories. But how is his copy to survive the uphill obstacle course posed by copy readers, editors and publishers? Some of the journalists present suggested that newsmen have some say in the editorial decisions of their papers; others advocated a national steering committee that would serve as a watchdog, criticizing the most blatant inadequacies of the press. But no one yet seems to know how newly won self-awareness on the part of the reporter can be translated into anything other than the occasional fluke of a good piece. It may be 1972, but all the news that fits, still isn't getting printed.
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