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Less journalism = more corruption

As journalism declines corruption rises; there must be a link.

It's hard not to notice -- as I note in a Thursday column -- the uptick in public corruption, especially in Philly and Pennsylvania.

The number of investigations, the nature of the charges and the ongoing outcomes of guilty pleas and convictions points to serious lapses leading to criminality among many serving in public life.

But it's also hard not to notice simultaneous declines in journalism which, when at its best, is THE public watchdog of those in public posts. And it's equally hard not to think there's a correlation between such declines and the rise of wrongdoing.

Put simply, when fewer are watching more are able to act like no one's watching.

Sure, wrongdoing often is caught by prosecutors. But at great public cost. And who knows who goes uncaught? Who knows how many caught in crimes would not have slipped to the dark side if the public light was brighter?

And, believe me, I understand the failings of my profession. It too often these days follows a path of swiftness over substance.

It too often sets sights on the number of online clicks it can produce for its dwindling number of advertisers, and too often those clicks are baited with more fluff than actual information that citizens and voters need to know.

In so doing it diminishes the time and resources once spent on serious investigation, context and greater public service.

But the larger problem is that as newspapers flail in an economy and culture that no longer values or supports them, as the number of journalists continues to fall, the opportunities of the unwatched to stretch or break the law expand.

This week, The Washington Post offered a chart on the state of journalism showing that in just one year the profession lost 10 percent of daily newspaper workers. In the last decade, the loss was nearly 40 percent.

No matter what you think of newspapers or of journalism, the plain fact is that politicians and public officials, society and democracy are better with them than without. Part of the proof lies in the numbers: fewer journalists, more corruption.