Looking back on it, American journalism was always an impossible dream. But it was a dream that captured my imagination when I was very young. I suppose it began with a little pamphlet titled “So You Want to be a Reporter” that my English teacher, Mr. Lebens, gave me in the Sixth Form. And it might have had something to do with movies like “The Front Page.”
Or it might just have been that I got a freelance gig at the Jamaica Daily Express during my summer vacation back when I was 16, and became addicted to the adrenaline rush that news reporting produces.
Whatever the cause, by the time I was 19, I had abandoned my boring white-collar job at the Palisadoes Airport near Kingston, Jamaica, to join a New Zealander named Bernard Diederich at his weekly English-language newspaper in Port au Prince, Haiti.
I spent the vast majority of the next half century as a journalist.
Over the years, I read a lot of journalism textbooks, took a lot of courses, attended a lot of seminars … I couldn’t get enough of it. I was in love.
The way I saw it, being a journalist was the next best thing to being a knight of the Round Table. You dedicated yourself to the Holy Grail of Truth, ripping the mask away from a hypocritical and corrupt society, exposing the facts as they really were.
It was a concept that existed in America more than anywhere else. In Jamaica, the Daily Gleaner was, by and large, a part of the system, not the chief critic of it. With the exception of the Toronto Star, which was then owned by a trust, that was the norm in Canada, too.
In America the press is supposed to monitor those in power. It’s a concept embedded in the Constitution.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to American journalism. Newspapers are dying by the dozens across this nation, and the few that survive are being bought by propagandists like Rupert Murdoch and the johnny-come-lately Koch Brothers. The Boston Globe was picked up for pennies by a baseball magnate. And this morning, I read that the Washington Post was sold for a pittance to the founder of Amazon. What that eccentric billionaire will do with it is anyone’s guess. But I am not optimistic.
Without newspapers, Americans are left to sort out a bewildering flood of misinformation for themselves.
Television and radio outlets have been gobbled up by commercial and political interests intent only on making money. And the Internet is an untamed jungle, with no distinction between fact, opinion and outright fabrication.
I suppose the way America’s “press” was conceived was too good to last. It was a noble experiment but it was doomed to failure. The two sides of the business are incompatible. Selling ads does not mix well with exposing abuse.
Will a new information model emerge to serve the public? I can’t imagine one at the moment, but stranger things have happened.
Until then, question everything you read or hear. As a society, we are flying blind.