Tom Fenton's Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century

There are those who just read the news, usually from a teleprompter, and those who report the news. Tom Fenton is a reporter, and an elegant one at that. Fenton, a four time Emmy award-winning journalist, was senior foreign correspondent for CBS News, and is now a commentator for the BBC and other news outlets.

Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century is a gem, a compilation of reflections and observations, that makes compelling arguments about what may need to happen to save newspapers and the broadcast media from being cannibalized by those whose interests are comprised merely of corporate gluttony.

One anecdote that particularly resonates is how, more than a year before 9/11, when he wanted to go to Afghanistan with his London producer to interview Osama bin Laden, the networks that paid Fenton to report from abroad refused to finance the trip. These same networks, he contends, have downsized to such a degree that investigative journalism is now extinct, news is recycled, packaged, and rebroadcast, and media consolidation has all but destroyed the Fourth Estate. Entertainment, and crass consumerism have eclipsed dignified information-gathering.

While it is a study of the failure of the media, Junk News ends on an optimistic note. There is a solution, Fenton asserts. Just as the government, in the U.K., subsidizes the BBC, and its journalistic integrity remains intact, so can the U.S. subsidize our newspapers, but the FCC must step out of its role as punitive administrator and instead provide oversight in the area of program quality. Changing the time of news broadcasts from dinner time to prime time might be an option, Fenton suggests, but more importantly insuring that the content is not subjugated by the kind of mercantilism and venality that has led to coverage of Paris Hilton's misadventures with no mention of America's misadventures in Somalia.

Tom Fenton's Junk News doesn't have even one ounce of didacticism or vitriole, but is instead a witty, candid, unpretentious look at the broadcast media from an insider. Its genius is its ability to convey complex ideas with a simplicity, and an elegance, that is at once tantalizing and unforgettable.

Junk News is available in hard cover from Fulcrum Books.