The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. – What if?
What if we could figure out a way to bring American journalism back from the brink of death?
Would it be possible to make American democracy work again for “the people?”
Sitting here on the Gulf Coast riding out the winter of 2014-15 in a media camper van, I am not so sure it is possible. But I have no choice but to try, at least for a little while longer.
I may one day soon say “To hell with it…” and join the chorus of voices who say journalism is dead in America and there’s no such thing as democracy anymore and all that matters is capitalism. “It’s all about the money.”
If environmentalists and unions and lawyers and democrats think they can save themselves with a little half-assed social networking and professional journalism doesn’t matter, why should I continue to try to help them?
Maybe I should just take the BP money and the Exxon money and the Southern Company/Alabama Power money and get back into sensational blogging like everybody else. That seems to be what people want from news organizations. That’s the stuff that gets liked, shared and commented on in Facebook and Twitter.
I am not Superman. I am human, and just as fallible as anybody else. I can be humble and show class and character all day long. But if no one is interested in funding it, what’s the use of trying?
Do you really like living in a one-party state and country where the government itself is always portrayed as the bad guy?
Do you really believe that the best thing for the future is to turn all the power and wealth over to a one-world corporation?
That’s where we are clearly headed. Forget the conspiracy theories about one-world government. The United Nations is NOT the problem.
The problem is people will not stand up for themselves against corporate power and get onboard to support the Web journalism that could make a difference.
I know something about that.
Over the past couple of days I have been visiting an old friend of mine from the Birmingham Southside days in the 1980s, an artist named Evan Riddle who has been through his share of booms and busts and depression just like I have. We are verbally talking through the cover art for my memoir that will be coming out in the next few months.
He does not watch much television, so I told him about the Davinci’s Demons show on Starz and how the young Leonardo da Vinci was portrayed in that drama, and how in each episode the great artist and engineer came up with his best solutions to problems he was pondering by looking to nature and then verbally talking through the problem and solution with pals.
He studied the structure of a pomegranate, for example, and came up with the cluster bomb.
You can’t accomplish that with an e-mail exchange or text messages. You are not using the same parts and pathways of the brain when typing that you do when facing another human being across the table and actually talking about the issues.
I told him of my experiences after I closed the first of it’s kind Newsbreak book store, news stand and coffee bar on Southside and moved to the beach in Gulf Shores to work for a chain of newspapers on the Gulf Coast and really learned how to make democracy work with honest to dog watchdog journalism. Those stories are recounted in the book.
Due in large measure to the journalism, the people were able to win major victories against Exxon and Shell oil and the U.S. Navy and other entities who had bad ideas that would have screwed up the environment and the economy on the coast. I am the one who broke the story that Exxon and Shell wanted to discharge oil and gas drilling waste into coastal waters in 1989, not long after the Exxon Valdeze oil spill in Prince William’s Sound Alaska. The story was picked up by UPI and CNN, and the people got activated by it and got the lawyers involved. The case went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court — which still had Democrats on it at the time — and the people won a permanent injunction against the dumping.
I also broke and investigated stories about the Navy’s plans to put a nuclear electromagnetic pulse simulator in the Gulf, and again, the people responded and the lawyers got involved. We put that $78 million Cold War era dinosaur of a program in permanent dry dock thanks in part to Senator Richard Shelby, who was then a Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
But it hasn’t been that long ago that I demonstrated this concept of watchdog journalism in practice. Just two years ago, with economic support from the Sierra Club, we killed a plan to open up the Talladega National Forest for natural gas fracking, the only case of its kind in the country.
But for reasons I can only speculate about, this was greeted by the very people it helped the most with hostility. The journalism apparently didn’t look exactly like what they were used to with the mainstream media or even blogging and social networking, so they apparently didn’t even know what they were looking at and seeing right in front of their very eyes.
So now they are stuck with what is left of the Newhouse media empire, al.com in Alabama, and are too afraid to even complain about it or criticize the bullshit that passes for journalism by the corporate chain press.
I have learned many things in my life. One of them is that people tend to get what they pay for. If you think free blogging and Zuckerberg’s Facebook is really a worthy substitute for real, watchdog journalism, then what can you expect for the future? Right-wing, anti-government Republicans running all three branches of state and federal government and local control too, a future where the environment of the earth and your community will be destroyed, and the economy too.
These things go hand in hand. There is much research to back this up. This has been going on so long that I shouldn’t even have to chase the links to prove it. Pretty much everybody should know how to use Google by now.
The conventional wisdom according to the mainstream, traditional news media in America is that saving the environment comes at the expense of the economy. But anybody who has actually been involved in these fights over the past three decades or so knows damn well that is not the case. In fact the opposite is true.
But there is one other truth that you can take to the damn bank. Without a watchdog press — on the Web, not in print — American democracy is fucked. There is no way around it. Believe it. Or not.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.