Wednesday, May 11, 2011
The progressive era of America was a time period where our country was going through a lot of change. The government was taking a larger role in citizens' lives, corporate America became more accountable to it's customers, and there were reforms in just about every area of the country. A large portion of the change was due to muckrakers, the exposé journalists of the late 1800's and early 1900's.
These journalists exposed everything including crime, the food industry, child labor, monopolies government corruption, and much more. Some of the work is still well known. The Jungle, for example was a book which exposed the meat packing industry, and had a direct effect in cleaning up that industry not to mention creating the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We can thank these exposé journalists for purifying the country and setting the precedent for transparency in business and politics.
Today, however, muckraking has taken on an entirely new meaning. Don't get me wrong, there are still publications that ask hard questions and deal with real, important issues. These aren't the publications I'm referring to. Other publications full of vapid, vain, and useless information is what bothers me. They're online as well as in every grocery store aisle in America--Tabloid magazines. Journalism has digressed from articles on monopolies in the oil and train industry to critiquing what the Kardashians were wearing last night, or which celebrity is having "marital issues". People actually care, too. If sales are any indication of what consumers care about, the fact that People magazine sold more magazines in 2010 than Time, Sports Illustrated, Playboy or Maxim, to name a few, shows how much people are interested in gossip magazine topics.
In the National Enquirer/People/US Weekly there's no need for relevance, accuracy, privacy, or even truth. If Jennifer Lopez happens to relax her face into what looks like a frown, and then she looks at her husband with that face guess what tomorrow's headline will be? "Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony Relationship on the Rocks. Separation is Imminent", followed by an article outlining how their marriage has been falling apart for months--according to an unnamed friend of the family. I have two responses to this. 1. Who cares? But those magazines sell millions of copies so obviously people do. 2. What journalist would stoop to that level? Maybe their dream of writing for the New York Times didn't work out, but I'd like to think if I didn't get my ideal job I would still keep my integrity and not rely on other people's "problems" to make a living.
Those who are regularly on tabloid covers have probably learned to block out or even laugh about what's written about them in these magazines, but it's not them I'm worried about. The American public that clamors over this information is contributing to a society that would rather read about Ryan Seacrest's ludicrous salary than the BP oil spill. I'm not blameless and I know it. Sometimes I like to look at before and after pictures of Heidi Montag and her plastic surgery, or read some other stupid article. In the long run though, I appreciate good journalism that talks about a real issue.
While a portion of the original muckrakers' legacy has become GossipCop.com, there is still plenty of evidence of the good they did for the country and for journalism. While I'd like to do away with tabloids, the first amendment protects that industry. There's not much I can do to make a difference, one less hit on UsMagazine.com isn't going to hurt them too badly, but I'm still going to buy my New York Times in support of real journalism.