By Cameron Rasmusson
With the modern political era placing increased pressure on journalists, it’s more important than ever to remember why the Fourth Estate matters.
David Barsamian has built a career pondering exactly that question. An alternative radio broadcaster, investigative journalist and media analyst, he is fiercely critical of the massive, corporate-owned mainstream media’s failings. In spite of that, Barsamian sees a more troubling trend over the past several years: the vilification of journalists by powerful political figures, including President Donald Trump.
“I’ve never seen such vitriol heaped upon the media, and I’m a critic of the media,” said Barsamian.
Considering Barsamian’s breadth of experience, that’s saying something. His weekly radio show, “Alternative Radio,” has run for three decades, and he has collaborated with the likes of Noam Chomsky, Eqbal Ahmad, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Richard Wolff, Arundhati Roy and Edward Said. Sandpoint residents have a rare opportunity to learn from Barsamian’s perspective when he speaks at the Sandpoint Library Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m. in a talk entitled “Why Journalism Matters.” The event is co-sponsored by KRFY Community Radio, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and the Sandpoint Reader.
According to Barsamian, journalism matters more than ever in the internet age, where lies and propaganda spread more quickly and easily than well-vetted facts. The popularity of unscrupulous personalities like Alex Jones and wild conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, which alleged that Hillary Clinton was connected to human trafficking rings run out of D.C.-based restaurants, is evidence enough of that.
While good journalism is an antidote to bad information, the realities of modern media present their own challenges. The consolidation of the mainstream media to a few corporate outlets and a comparatively small array of alternative and public-interest options creates a limited media landscape. Important stories get buried and the public is funneled into a handful of ideological echo chambers.
“Media is a contested area,” Barsamian said. “Ideology is a contested area, and we need a vibrant media that presents points of view from A to Z, not A to B.”
While the mainstream national media is preoccupied with ratings and profit, local media struggles to remain financially viable. More often than not, that results in smaller news rooms, thinner resources and little time for reporters to do the true investigative work that holds powerful people accountable, Barsamian said.
For all the difficulties journalists face, there are still thousands doing good work every day. That’s why journalism matters, and Barsamian hopes that Sandpoint residents will turn out to the library April 18 to learn more. Journalism is called the Fourth Estate for a reason, he said, and it warrants respect as an institution vital to democracy itself.
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