Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pardon me while I dust off this soapbox

It really pisses me off when people make general, all-encompassing statements about the media.

As in, "The media is just trying to ______."

... scare us into thinking there's a swine flu pandemic.
... push their leftist political propaganda.
... cause a panic with all the gun violence coverage.

Yes. If only we could push all of those media-elite types into a giant vortex and close our ears and eyes and minds to the world around us.

Because I guarantee the people in power would follow all the rules if left unchecked and unquestioned on a regular basis.

Because the fear of not having access to information would be better than fear raised by too many details that we're free to sort through and process on our own.

Because the media must have an ulterior motive other than disseminating information and earning a paycheck.

As someone who has spent the last nine years in a news room, I can tell you there's no goal other than reporting the news. The vast majority of the professionals I've worked with at three different newspapers do it for the love of knowledge. For the thrill of getting a story. Writing a good headline. Nailing down that last detail. Making sure the public has the information it needs and wants to make decisions.

Yes, it's easy to blame the media. Sure, at the heart of it, our corporations are in it for numbers. For ratings. For profit. For subscriptions and single-copy sales. And, at times, certain stories may seem sensational for that purpose only. But I'm also guessing those stories are the first ones people mention when making small talk throughout the day.

And, here's a little secret, if you think your regular news outlet is too far left, chances are there are an equal amount of people who complain that it's too far right. People remember the coverage they disagree with.

So the next time you find yourself blaming the media for fear mongering or being politically minded or sensationalist, try and imagine a world without it.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a country where your government warped the facts and controlled what could be published, aired or talked about.

Imagine what it would be like to know there was some sort of new deadly disease, but you would have no idea what the government was doing about it or what your likelihood was of contracting it or how to protect yourself.

Call me crazy, but I'm guessing you'd take too many details rather than relying on whispered word-of-mouth rumors and falsehoods.

Complain all you want, but the media reports facts. Blaming us isn't going to change them.

20 comments:

Ray said...

While I agree with almost everything that you said (because you do have a point), I would have to disagree with this statement: "Imagine what it would be like to live in a country where your government warped the facts and controlled what could be published, aired or talked about.”

^^We think that we are getting the full story/truth but who knows for sure? No one really knows except for maybe important government officials. And even then they might not be fully aware of the whole truth. Maybe it's a group of people who are above said "government officials" that know everything (every detail), and only report to us what "they think" we should know. Call me crazy but: this is what I think.

aj said...

Thanks for working diligently at what you do. I am convinced media has purpose and is a part of our freedom. I'm NOT always convinced it is all "warp-free" Especially after researching Operation Mockingbird [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Mockingbird]

But you are correct. It is unfair to point the blame at the media.

Sarah said...

"...do it for the love of knowledge. For the thrill of getting a story. Writing a good headline. Nailing down that last detail. Making sure the public has the information it needs and wants to make decisions." THIS right here is what my friends and family don't understand when I tell them I want to go into Journalism! I don't know if you remember e-mailing me a while ago about how I wanted to get into this (albiet difficult) business, but I totally agree with your post.

You're only pushing the news because it's your job, it's what you want to do, it's not the media who blows things into epic proportions, it's the public. The public pushes celebrities out of their homes, the public who instills fear into the masses. It's just ridiculous that they blame it on the media and the media alone.

novelle360 said...

Ray,

Yes, of course CEOs and government officials will do their best to hide something that casts them or their company in a negative light. They will try to prevent a story from getting out that will destroy their shares or their reputation. (See: Enron, Gov. Spitzer)

But that's why it's so important to have media. To get to the bottom of those stories. Uncover the truth. Get the facts out. Bloated shares. Sleeping with high-priced call girls, whatever.

What I'm talking about is the INABILITY to print those facts when you have them for fear of government retribution.

I worked with a reporter who spent a few years in China. He told me stories that would make your skin crawl. They were instructed which facts to leave out in a story. The government CONTROLLED the media. Controlled what information the public was privy to.

Now that's a terrifying thought.

So I'm saying be greatful for our right to free press and don't be so quick to point fingers. Everyone would miss it if it was gone.

Karen H - Hammond, IN said...

Good post. Building on what Ray says, truly informed people read more than one outlet, more than one "side" of the story to get as many details to form their own opinon.

I'm one of those people who sends stuff to the media in hopes of it getting published, so I know how they sometimes have to tone things down so as NOT to cause fear.

Erica said...

Good post. I suppose I could be in that category of people who "blame the media" from time to time, but what I get frustrated with are personality news shows on tv that constantly try to insert their opinion into the news presentation. I'm not talking about presenting the news with a bias, it's entirely impossible to present something without a bias. I'm talking about someone who will report a story and then follow with "isn't that disgraceful?" or some other judgement call. I want the news. And I think newspapers do a fantastic job of that which is why it's so important to keep them around. I also really appreciate NBC nightly news with Bryan Williams for the lack of personal insertion.

I completely agree with you in that the news media's purpose is to keep the rest of the world in check and present facts. News essentially. And for that reason I've become increasingly frustrated when News personalities rather than news anchors (I hope I'm making the difference clear) are put in the slots where headline news used to be and headline news is only reported at the times everyone is at work. I think this has started to recede slightly, but it still bothers me sometimes. I read the newspaper/online news forum nearly everyday and fully appreciate the importance of freedom of the press - which I suppose means I need to accept the press which I don't particularly like to protect that freedom. I suppose I'm okay with that.

Sorry for the long response, but your post truly was thought provoking.

the_plainsman said...

Am going to read your post again later when I have more time, but agree with your main points. Though far from perfect, the press is our fourth branch of our democracy and we would not have the freedoms we have today without it.

I do hold a distinction between the press and "the media" though, that my editor friend in the business seems to also reflect.
"The media" is what holds the latest adventures of the Lindsay Lohan" and "American Idols" to be "news." As entertaining as that might be to some, what they ate for dinner or who they slept with last night is not news.

Ironically, with the sad decline of traditional news outlets, more Americans are getting their information from the net, "relying on whispered word-of-mouth rumors and falsehoods" you speak of, rather than responsible, fact checked and backed articles and broadcasts.

It scares me when I realize how under-informed many are about the most basic issues confronting us today, and of course, they never read "a biased" newspaper or weekly news magaztine that helps puts things in perspective.

Kirstin said...

This was a very thought-provoking post! I would agree that the media is vital to our society's ability to receive accurate information. As a writer for a paper (albeit a student paper), I understand the frustration you have (even if on a smaller scale :-).

The idea of yours that I latched onto the most, though, was about labels.

When you said that you disliek that people blame the whole spectrum of media, I think it is also important to understand that this applies to any large entity. For example, i wonder if you noticed that the use of "the government" in this post, refers to not just senators/the president/representatives, but to the many state offices attempting to aid individuals daily. Just as the media consists of not only CEOs and businessmen (most of whom strive to have honorable professions) but hardworking journalists and so many more--as you stated very eloquently.

I think sometimes it is easier for me, and society as a whole to blame "the adminstration" or "the man", when we should really be striving for more personal accountability.

Thank you for making me think about this!

Ray said...

RYC:

"So I'm saying be greatful for our right to free press and don’t be so quick to point fingers. Everyone would miss it if it was gone.”

^^Yes, you are right and for that I am grateful that we do have freedom of speech.

On your comment about the reporter who told you about what was happening in China: "I'd be very interested in learning more about that.”

I still cannot get out of my head the times (years ago) where I had went downtown with my cousin where: There would be displays (for ex: of a person caged) and pamphlets being handed out to bring awareness about the horrible injustices happening in China, that we in the states were not aware of. Years later and I cannot ever forget it.

My aunt told me once that she was reading an article about it in a Chinese Newspaper (I think) and she asked an Asian woman sitting next to her if it was true. The lady responded and said, “No” that it was not true. She went as far as taking the newspaper out of my aunt’s hand. And I just found it strange that this lady would lie. I mean who would lie about such injustices happening for no reason and go as far as to display it and print out pamphlets…? It just seemed odd to me (unless the woman was afraid to speak the truth to a complete stranger. Not to mention that they were in public).

Anyhow, if you have any stories; I would like to read them.

Kirstin said...

I apologize for the typos in my last comment--I should have proofread!

Ray said...

I also have to agree with, "Karen H - Hammond": You should collect information from every source you can and then decide for yourself what sounds right and what doesn't.

(Okay, SORRY! Enough comments!)

LeslieAnn said...

Amen! I'm right there with you. I get frustrated when people blame the media but they group it all together. I write for a small community newspaper and there is a huge difference between what I do for the community and what AJ Hammer does on Entertainment Tonight or what Rachel Maddow does on MSNBC. They are personalities, they were hired for their views. We're hired to produce news that is important to the community. We're writers for the love of words and the thrill of a deadline story that will have a big impact on your community.

What I hate even more is when I tell people what I do and because they perceive me as "the media" or "the liberal media" they respond with, "Oh, I'm sorry," like it's supposed to be funny. Like I'd tell someone else, "Wow, your job sucks and I don't like it," or "That must be awful," or "I don't trust you." I hate that. Ever you ever encountered that? Any suggested responses?

LeslieAnn said...

Oooh, I meant to say HAVE you ever encountered that. I'm sure you get it. Anyway it makes me want to scream.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with whoever talked about the difference between the media and the press. The press are the good people like you at newspapers. The media are the sensationalist ratings-mongers behind the cable news channels. I think that's the difference.

Annie said...

Hi Kelly,
I agree with the majority of what you said in your post. However, I also understand that it is people that bring us the "facts" and "news". Consequently, anything we read, see on television, or hear on the radio has been chosen by a reporter, journalist, whatever, to be considered newsworthy. Like you said, your job is "Making sure the public has the information it needs and wants to make decisions."

As a college professor once told me, history was recorded by old white men, so we most often, only know the "facts", that old white man deemed important. There are 3 sides to every story, yours, mine, and somewhere in the middle, where the truth lies. Personal views will always color the story being told.

No system is perfect, we are blessed in this country to have the First Amendment. And we are privileged to have individuals that strive to bring us the news every day.

My family was discussing the "informed-ness" of the United States public and in this day and age, it is INCREDIBLE, the number of people who don't know what is going on in the world, or even worse, who don't have a balanced view of events that are taking place. I think the internet mostly to blame for this, while information passed along nearly instantaneously, people have greater control over what information with which they come into contact. Most likely, they will not read the story from the other columnist that presents the "other side"; this was not as rampant when we only had newspapers and I think this is where the generalizations of groups, people, organizations, whatever begins...

Wendy M. said...

Ooooh, what an issue.

As a reporter, I used to take it intensely personally when someone would talk about "I hate when you media....(fill in blank)" (You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard that to my face from someone I was trying to interview!)

I wanted to wring their neck and tell them I certainly don't do what I do for the hours or the money or the awesome concrete future at my disposal. I then wanted to smack them upside the head and remind them I was not their local TV station, nor People magazine nor any of the other "media" they might be referring to.

And then, after some time (and perhaps some nights alone with my wine) I realized that I am not "THAT media" because I work my little tush off to be fair, honest and human. I can't speak for all reporters, or all newspapers and certainly not all media, but I like to think I'm not alone.

I joined this field to SHARE others' stories, not make up my own. I expect no Pulitzer Prize but am thoroughly pleased and most happy when I learned that one of my stories has made just one person wiser, more educated, more aware or BETTER in some way.

And then I try to do it all over again the next day.

Sigh.

Thanks for letting me borrow your soapbox.

::hands over bottle of wine::

Anonymous said...

hi Kelly,
I have to say i disagree. You are making it seem as if it is a question of ''either/or''. As if there can be no in between, it has to be as free as it is or it has to be the other end of the spectrum like in china where everything is government controlled. I think there can be news that is not necessarilly regulated by government, yet follows rules about how to go about bringing out certain kinds of news, for example school shootings. Media often DO portray horrible events (i.e. school shootings) in a sensational manner. Studies have shown that when we are not careful this can actually trigger a copycat effect. There is a good set of guidelines written by Coleman. You can find it easily if you google ''copycat effect''.
I think it goes without saying that free media is important but i think its the same thing as freedom of speech; it doesn't mean you can say everything and you cant say it in every way you wish...
Esther (sorry, dutch = sometimes illogical english sentences ;) )

Marcy said...

I agree with most of what you said, but feel the need to say a few things:

1) I believe the media's job is reporting is to provide information and facts, rather than good stories for small talk. Usually, those two are very different kinds of stories (Paris Hilton getting out of jail is great small talk fodder, but there's no reason legitimate news channels should be stopping their reports to show live coverage of it).

2) The "take it or leave it" stance is unfair. I agree that blaming the media for all our ills is silly. But saying we can't complain about the media b/c our other option is not having it, is just as silly. It's like saying I'm not allowed to complain about our government or say they did a piss poor job at this or that b/c the alternative is no government and thus total chaos.

I may be wrong on this, but I think most of the disgust with the media stems not so much from newspapers, but TV news shows and channels. The ones who report multiple stories on the Obamas' new dog and Michelle's wardrobe. Who insist on calling our president a socialist and a fascist, and assign him letter grades, rather than discuss the details and merits of his proposed plans. The media outlets that feel the need to trumpet religious and moral agendas rather than use actual facts and evidence.

Clearly it is not wise to make vast over-generalizations of such a vast enterprise, or simply blame "the media" without offering any solutions or suggestions. Perhaps we'd all do better if we agreed to try to make our country's media coverage even better, more objective, more transparent, more far-reaching, etc.

Anonymous said...

Normally I agree with your posts or at least see your point of view. Perhaps your newspaper and other places you have worked reports the facts but there a lot of places out there that do not.

Two words - Mortgage Crisis.

Erica said...

This doesn't really add anything to the discussion, but if you want to understand what I was TRYING to say in my argument please see Marcy's post. It is far more eloquent : )