When News Budgets Mean Life or Death

New York Times media reporter Tim Arango has a story (5/20/09) on one very serious repercussion from shrinking corporate news outlets:

Opponents of the death penalty looking to exonerate wrongly accused prisoners say their efforts have been hobbled by the dwindling size of America’s newsrooms, and particularly the disappearance of investigative reporting at many regional papers.

In the past, lawyers opposed to the death penalty often provided the broad outlines of cases to reporters, who then pursued witnesses and unearthed evidence.

Now, the lawyers complain, they have to do more of the work themselves and that means it often doesn’t get done. They say many fewer cases are being pursued by journalists, after a spate of exonerations several years ago based on the work of reporters.

The decline in newsroom resources has also hampered efforts by death-penalty opponents to search for irrefutable DNA evidence that an innocent person has been executed in America.

Even though, as Arango informs us, “since 1992, 238 people in the United States, some who were sitting on death row, have been exonerated of crimes through DNA testing,” the collapsing for-profit media business model is resulting in a further abrogation of their role in U.S. democracy. Just one example: “In a case in Tennessee, DNA evidence from a rape and murder for which a man was executed in 2006, but for which doubts about his guilt exist, sits untested because [Innocence Project co-founder Barry] Scheck and others have not been able to recruit a local newspaper or media organization to become a plaintiff.”

See the FAIR magazine Extra!: “Enabling False Convictions: Exoneration Coverage Overlooks Media Role” (11-12/07) by Jon Whiten