|(Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)|
On Wednesday I received a call from executives at the American Independent News Network, which owned the longrunning news site I briefly ran, the Minnesota Independent.
Following a little media furor in which I played the uncomfortable role of being one of the subjects of a story, I find myself among the ranks of unemployed journalists again.
As I joked to a former boss: It's not that bad, I live very close to a county food stamp office.
I'm not interested in trashing my former employer, although I might not be happy that they chose to close down the sites, or the way they went about it.
But a question from a reporter made me want to articulate why we do this journalism thing. That's the sort of question that gets lost in the day-to-day of trying to rework blocks of words into something that is, at the least, comprehensible. Before someone else points it out, I should: it's naive, I know.
Although the Independent was widely described as lefty, I always thought of it as a throwback to the great American tradition of muckraking (although I realize not all MnIndy writers throughout the years thought of it similarly). Maybe I just feel this way because higher-ups mostly left me alone to work on the projects I was interested in, both as a freelancer and staff writer.
Like all Twin Cities media venues, we posted short pieces on controversial comments from Michele Bachmann. But we also posted in-depth (sometimes so deep it was confusing) stories about organizations or corporations that were trying to influence public policy from the shadows. No one has yet been able to adequately explain to me why the local legacy media, with all their reporters and money, rarely cover stories like that (although there are a few very fine examples to the contrary).
Why did not one "respectable" big local news venue pick up stories about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Minnesota? It wasn't because I reported everything there was on the issue; my access and resources are way more limited than any of the big three media around here. It's not that ALEC doesn't influence the political system, all would agree that it has. It's at least partly because the complex, controversial topic gets lost amidst soap operas about stuff like the new Vikings Stadium.
But if we look at the holy Bible of our profession (according to me), that's the sort of thing we're supposed to report, whether it seems like a left-wing or right-wing issue. Like doctors have an overarching mission, we do too, at least in theory.
"Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection," our SPJ Code of Ethics says, distinguishing representing the public's interests from advocacy.
Sure, there were imperfections with MnIndy, and there was the schlock and UV-bait that comes with almost all political and online reporting these days. But what's most upsetting to me (or as much as the loss of a steady paycheck)is the loss of this venue where so many of the local journalists I most respect spent some time and pushed the political dial more towards openness. It's that we have one less news organization shamelessly doing some of that good, solid work that's supposed to be one of the core responsibilities of our profession.
Naive. I know.