In recent weeks the publisher of The American Conservative, Ron Unz, wrote an essay asking why American media have missed or gotten so wrong many big stories (his essay, Our American Pravda, was a provocative look at some inherent media weaknesses). Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic Online, responds with a partial explanation: deference to government officials, duplicative coverage of unimportant events, flaws in TV as a news medium, the underappreciation of watchdog journalism, incentives to cheerlead in the business press, inadequate media criticism, and basic collective chaotic organization of approach. He thinks it's also important to note that constraints on journalists are wider than they appear.
Steve Coll, the veteran journalist and recently appointed head of the Columbia School of Journalism, writes for The New Yorker this week on the strained relationship between the Obama Administration and the press in light of revelations about surveillance of journalists. Coll argues it's important to recognize that the issue transcends journalism into more significant matters of free expression.
The Columbia Journalism Review's Kathryn Brenzel examines the tentative first steps to a free press in Libya in the post-Qadaffi country. She finds great uncertainty as media outlets sprout, in part because political violence remains a threat and in part because some of the new players are not necessarily pursuing strong journalism. The government itself is struggling to find its feet, she notes, and sending mixed messages about the pursuit of an independent press.