Superman turns his backWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
The reporting and journalism fields’ standards have deteriorated in conjunction with the ascent of the Internet. While the democratization of information dissemination is a positive development, the vacuum of quality control and the culture of anonymity the Internet inspires is a major setback. That is not to blame the Internet for the crumbling of journalistic integrity. It was the corporatization of the field that cut into its ability to stand independent and strong; the Internet merely provided the stage.
Too much opinion seeps into news reporting; too many political agendas poison the well from which diligence and integrity should spring. People more concerned with social status than truth own publications. Many organizations employ stenographers instead of reporters. Financial pressures shape news coverage. YouTube videos of cats stuck in trees eat up airtime at the expense of analysis and investigation.
Whether you are a welder or an architect or a chef, I imagine you pay attention to public discussions and representations of your work and craft. So it is with my preoccupation with how journalism is portrayed in popular culture. There aren’t too many iconic newspaper editors. There was Ed Asner’s Lou Grant, who started in a Minneapolis TV station before becoming city editor of a Los Angeles daily newspaper, but eventually netted 10,000 balloons to his house to fly to Paradise Falls, Venezuela.
Comic books gave us cigar-chomping, hotheaded J. Jonah Jameson in “Spider-Man” and gentler but still steely Perry White in “Superman.” But in the general, journalists and editors do not shine in modern fiction. Mikael Blomkvist, from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, compromises himself and his publication at every opportunity, even as he claims to be on a righteous path. Millions of “Harry Potter” readers learned to loathe Rita Skeeter, the scheming, borderline criminal reporter for the Daily Prophet. The nerds Jimmy Olsen and Les Nessman are countered by the model-hot alliterative pair of Vicki Vale and Lois Lane.
It has always interested me that when the creators of Superman and Spider-Man needed an occupation to serve as the identity-hiding opposite of strength and power, they chose journalism. Peter Parker’s camera and Clark Kent’s notepad keep them close to the action of the day and provide mild-mannered cover for their respective superheroes.
Apparently, journalism’s decline has become too much for even Superman to live with. In DC Comics’ Superman No. 13, a story titled “They Will Join You in the Sun” shows Supes quitting the Daily Planet. The story opens with the Big Blue Boy Scout bench pressing the equivalent of the weight of the planet Earth, but physical strength isn’t the issue. The Son of Krypton has more ideological issues on his mind.
At the Galaxy Broadcasting Building, home of the Daily Planet print and online editions, Kent argues with Editor White and reporter Lane, who is now a producer for PGN TV. White is angry that Kent, whose primary job is to write about Superman, hasn’t filed a story in a week.
“The guy isn’t a 24-hour pharmacy, chief,” Kent says. “He must not have felt like he was needed. Calling attention to Superman not being around only serves to put a big target on the people of Metropolis.”
Setting aside the monumental conflict of Kent basically taking a job to report on his own activities, he turns his criticism to Lane.
“I didn’t think you recognized news anymore,” he says. “The lead story was a transcript of the White House daily briefing — no questions asked. Then a 4-minute-and-37-second feature on Lookie’s love child. Followed by an interview for the latest weekend blockbuster. I’ve been a journalist for barely five years now. Why am I the one sounding like a grizzled, ink-stained wretch who believes news should be about — I don’t know, news?”
I was greatly disappointed to read that the comic’s writer, Scott Lobdell, chose to drop White into the pit of resigned clock-punchers. He responds to Kent, “Times are changing and print is a dying medium. I don’t like it. But the only hope we have of delivering any news at all is to give the people what they want to read — to see on television, or pad or cellphone. And God help me, if a front page story about some reality star gets them to pick up a paper and maybe stumble on real news …”
Yikes, White! Way to stand tall and guard the gates.
Kent must also be frustrated with White’s lackadaisical attitude, as his anger spills into the newsroom. As Cat Grant (described as “entertainment editor” and “clothes horse”) watches, Kent gets into a fight with White’s boss, Galaxy Broadcasting owner Morgan Edge.
Edge admonishes Kent for his lack of story production, punctuating his comments with “I own the stories. And your notes. And for reasons I don’t always understand, I even own you, Clark.”
Kent responds, “Just doing my job — looking for the news, not making it.”
“Your job is what I say it is. The truth is … if you can’t do that Kent, then I need to find someone who can,” Edge huffs.
“The truth?” Kent rises and says, “You want to have a conversation about the truth? The truth is that somewhere along the way, the business of news became the news. Growing up in Smallville, I believed journalism was an ideal, as worthy and important as being a cop, a fireman — a teacher or a doctor.
“I was taught to believe you could use words to change the course of rivers — that even the darkest secrets would fall under the harsh light of the sun. But facts have been replaced by opinions. Information has been replaced by entertainment. Reporters have become stenographers.
“I can’t be the only one who is sick at the thought of what passes for the news today. I am not the only one who believes in the power of the press — the fact that we need to stand up for the truth. For justice. And yeah — I’m not ashamed to say — the American way.”
No one in the newsroom will stand up with Kent, and he is unceremoniously fired from/quits the newspaper.
Entertainment editor and clothes horse Grant (is the last name an homage to Lou?) follows Kent and kinda-sorta voices support for him, but before the matter can be settled, a Godzilla-size dragon from Krypton attacks and Supes has to don his tights to defend the city.
What can be done for a field even Superman turns his back on? Journalists do not have to be faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. They just need to adhere to basic principles of ethics and public service.
Sadly, even that basic tenet seems to be more suited for comic book fiction than daily newspaper reality.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.