DY: In Just a Few Words (#42)
What's YOUR major news source?
It’s going to take more than a single blog to fully express myself about the current state of media in our country. Hardly a day goes by that some good and intelligent person I generally like and respect doesn’t tell me a lot of what’s going on is the media’s fault or you can’t believe what the media is telling us. Here’s my first take on this sad state of affairs. The media isn’t perfect, but those sentiments are an oversimplification.
If one goes back through our nation’s history, it’s not hard to find examples of media unearthing issues that need to be brought to public attention. Sometimes it’s about a public figure who thinks he/she can get away with something. For example, in the 1984 Democratic Party presidential primary season, the leading contender invited reporters to follow him around. Be careful what you wish for, Senator. The media did - and broke the story that he was involved in what we might politely call a relationship that could impact national security if he were to be elected. That’s a story that needed to be told.
Closer to home, the Akron Beacon-Journal received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a 10-month series titled A Question of Color that looked at race relations in that city. Other examples of superb journalism abound - exposure of predatory lending practices, physical abuse of female athletes, the seriousness of opioids, violence and neglect in state-run mental institutions, and on-and-on the list goes.
Almost 30 years ago, I began working on my first book - Building Your Company’s Good Name. At that time, I interviewed a respected public opinion polling executive about the issue of mistrust in our institutions. His comments then about the media were as spot on as they would be today: They always reported bad news, but the distinction between mainstream media and the tabloids has disappeared. Everywhere we turn, we read and see the failings of people in institutions and corporations.
Here are two observations to contemplate for the next seven days.
- Reporters not only report news, they make news - and with that often comes a blurring of facts with opinions. Especially with television, watch how often reporters interview each other. I cringe when I see that because it leads to lazy journalism. Reporters are high on the list of people we do not trust, which means we also do not believe/trust a great deal of what they report. That’s not a good situation.
- There is a great deal of bad news and we see all of it. Modern technology makes it possible to get sensational news into your home 24/7 for greater impact than ever before. There have always been shocking events. The difference now is that you eat your dinner while watching them unfold in real time.
To put things in perspective, I made those two observations more than 25 years ago. Not much has changed, except the intensity and decibel levels have increased. And, today, we are all journalists thanks to social media and content that is often not only inaccurate but outrageous. It’s scary to think how many people use social media as their primary source for information. The very people who complain about mainstream media today often are the ones feeding the social media beast. I did a book project with a Cleveland doctor who said to me, Davis, there’s a lot of great medical information on the internet. And, there’s a lot of terrible medical information. The problem is that people don’t know the difference. He was spot on.
Sixty years ago I was in Journalism School at the University of North Carolina. One of the things I learned then was this. The plane that lands is never news. A lot of years later, I was introduced to this thought: If it bleeds, it leads.
How can we balance our right to know and need to know with the media’s need to sell time and space? At the end of the day, the media must make money to exist. They are a business with a bottom line.
We’ll be coming back to this topic again next week. In the meantime, think about how you would like to live in a country with regulated (AKA censored) media? Who would select the people who regulate the media? What qualifications would be required to be the one making the go or no-go decisions about what you read or see? Would you prefer to live in America with all its journalistic imperfections or would you rather live in China or Russia where a free press is an alien concept?
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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