Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Free press in Cook County?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
-First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
called the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1789

"Go now, and tell it on the mountains and in the cities. From your Web sites and laptops,tell it. From the street corners and the coffee house, tell it. On campus and at the mall, tell it. Tell it at the synagogue, sanctuary, and mosque. Tell it. Tell it where you can, when you can, and while you can. Tell America what we need to know--and we just might rekindle the patriot's dream."
-Bill Moyers, keynote address
National Conference on Media Reform
Minneapolis, June, 2008

Cook County is blessedly free of corporate-dominated media. Oh ya sure, the News Herald is owned by a media group but it's not Fox, not Murdoch, not even a very big player in the control-of-information game that was invented by the neocons who now control all three branches of the U.S. government--at which the founders would turn over and rise up from their grave to peaceably assemble and protest.
Lucky, yes, but well-served for the 21st century? True says no. Mind you, True is only a humble, ragtag collective. But She formed in response to a gap between the grapevine and the published Word a couple years back when Grand Marais was being invaded by Big Developers. That issue was happily resolved, to the benefit of most if not all.
New issues emerge, however, in our 21st century where technology daily changes the nature of the "press" even as most information is not now printed but rather published in cyberspace. And our backward local "press" have not joined the free and open Internet where anybody, anywhere can google something like "Poplar River impairment" and get all the published news articles from the local angle. Well, once we could get it from the News Herald but now it has gone private and you have to sign away your life story and pay money just to see an article. As for the Star, they are SO 20th century, you just have to save a copy of every paper.
And even here in our cozy little county our media have more serious limitations than Internet access. Let's name them:
The Star, the News Herald and WTIP are beholden to advertisers. Once the News Herald did editorials about issues in Cook County but now, nobody does.
WTIP is the emerging leader in comprehensive and substantive news coverage. They do a great job, covering issues and meetings that neither paper seems to manage to attend or explore.
But nobody gives us a big picture, nobody tries to put it all together (even inadequately, which would be a start), nobody fills in the gaps between the gossip mill and the deep truth.
Outsiders, even summer residents, can read and listen to every word but they still can't figure out what is really going on. That's partly because covering meetings, the basic stuff of the three branches of media, doesn't tell the stories but only describes the meetings.
OK, let's get specific, with a couple of examples.
1) The new major issue in Cook County is the big plans for development of Lutsen Mountain into an Aspen-like monstrosity. While this huge proposed travesty of the Cook County development ordinance looms large as an even greater threat than turning Grand Marais into a huge marina with Disney condos, there is scarcely a peep about it in the news.
2) Directly related to the Mountain Megalomania is the impairment of the Poplar River and the big misinformation being disseminated freely in both papers by--you guessed it--the OWNERS of Lutsen Mountain, who call themselves the "Poplar River Mangement Board." The irony here is that although these guys could well afford to BUY a page in both papers, they got it for free, in direct conflict with the policies that opinions and letters be strictly limited in word count. True will be exploring the Poplar River issues, trying to sift Truth from Sediment, in future posts.
But the point is, nobody else is looking at the big picture here, or taking any kind of a stand. Certainly not the county board which dances around and dodges with silly stuff about the legality of a special tax district that would force other Poplar River landowners to pay for the damage wreaked by the Lutsen Mountain owners, or the Lutsen Town Board that agrees to anything they want.
And here is the great failing of the media: what the Founders feared most when they wrote the First Amendment: that people can't make informed decisions without all the information. Both papers have printed full-page ads purporting to be "facts" by Lutsen Mountain owner Tom Rider. NOBODY has bothered to do any fact-checking.
Editorials have two purposes: one, to engage a public discussion and two, to bring a truthful perspective to the slipshod, piecemeal and disconnected stories that make up the daily news. We badly need them here, even without Rupert Murdoch's blockade of any facts at all.

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