Monday, May 11, 2009

Mainstream Media

I had an interesting conversation with 20/30 somethings this weekend. I was invited to a BBQ in Sugarhouse. Didn't know anyone except for the friend that invited me, whom I only met once before. So as you can guess, I didn't know what to expect. Sometimes it turns out to be the most fun you've had in a while.

It was a small barbeque. By the time I got there, there was only one hamburger pattie left...stale, cold and lifeless on the plate. It looked so lonely, but I wasn't about to eat it. One of my friend's roomates was kind enough to throw a fresh pattie on the grill. In the meantime, I poured myself a drink. Bacardi and Coke. Not my usual drink of choice, but it did the deed. I sat on the couch next to a couple...everyone else was seated in wooden chairs scattered through the room. It was an interesting mix of people, one in particular who had lived in Atlanta. He was talking about the SWINE FLU. Yes, you know...the virus that nearly scared the pants off everyone. He loudly voiced his opinion: "The MEDIA just decided to freak everyone out." I can't quote everything he said, not word for word anyway but there was a lot of finger pointing. The media was responsible for spreading fear. I chimed in after he said the media blew up the story for ratings purposes...that people were sick of talking about the economy, so the news decided to give Americans something else to worry about. So I asked him, "you think the media tries to spread fear and panic on purpose?" In short, most likely he said. He did an internship at CNN in Atlanta and knows it for a fact. It was his perspective. And I'll be the last person to defend some of our actions as an industry, but journalists don't sit around in meetings discussing what stories we should cover to instill fear. I said journalists. I can't speak for anyone else that works in news. ie: producers, managers, corporate bosses etc. Anyway, what mattered most about the conversation was realizing what my generation thinks about mainstream media. He wasn't the first to display such distrust. And while I haven't conducted a scientific poll on how many people part of generation x, y (is there a z yet?) think of television news, I feel comfortable enough to say that we don't tickle their taste budds anymore. I wasn't part of news 30 years ago, so I have not witnessed the change (although some would arguably call it the downfall) in journalism. What I'm wondering is what is it that this new generation expects from us as journalists? Is it what Edward R. Murrow envisioned? Separating facts from sensationalism? T.V. news does what it does today because it works, because just like any other industry it has become a corporation that is profitable thanks to advertisers and while advertising should not be part of journalism's equation...this BBQ guy thought it is evident that it is. Undeniable he said. Hmmmm...perhaps he's right, but not on my clock.

After a ten minute, slightly heated but healthy discussion about mainstream media...I left. No one at the party watches the news. Someone asked, "are you a reporter or something?" I didn't answer. That didn't matter; what mattered was leaving with what I suspected all along. People have lost faith in us. What I want to know is what can we do to restore that faith? AND, most importantly is it worth it? Or will we be drowned out by the head honchos? Anyway, just a thoughtful blog. Take it with a grain of salt. My opinion of my job as a journalist changes on a daily basis.


Jeremiah said...

I think that the downfall of journalism has a lot to do with the fact that people don't feel as though they are being told the whole story. It seems as though everybody has an agenda, whether it be Fox News and their "vast right wing conspiracies" or MSNBC and their extremely liberal bias. People used to watch the news because they trusted that they were going to be told the truth. (Wasn't Walter Cronkite the most trusted man in America at one point?) Now it seems that every time I turn on the news, I'm being told what somebody thinks that the truth should be regardless of whether or not it actually is actual truth.
I honestly think that it may be too late to redeem news networks given the abundant resources available for people to find the truth on their own (internet). I hope that real journalism makes a comeback soon though because I'm really tired of being told that I should care about people like Heidi and Spencer.
Today it's more important than ever for the media to do their job of keeping the people informed but it's becoming more and more obvious that for many "reporters" it's no longer about news but about pushing their agenda.

Jake Shannon said...


I understand that it must have put you in a strange position to defend "The Media" when you probably just wanted a burger and a good time!

I do think there are conflicts of interest created by business' and government's influence upon journalism. However, that said, journalism is the ONLY industry specifically protected by the Constitution of the United States, remember that! Solid investigative journalism is one of the greatest forces for good there is.

I think the problem is larger than "The Media". It is really a problem with our culture as a whole. It seems to me that there is a lack of critical reasoning ability and honesty that is pandemic (look at banking and politics for an example).

People make personal decisions based upon information received by journalists. This is a very sober responsibility. Instead of stories on Britney Spears, Anna Nicole, or Lindsey Lohan, real journalists should be focusing on real issues and, dare I say it, ridiculing those that would focus on such nonsense.

Stories that lead to more empathy and understanding of our world and the people in it are very important. Stories that investigate the implications of war, of poverty, of science, etc. are crucial.

As I see it, the solution lies in accountability, evidence-based reporting, and a duty to deliver the quality service that the First Amendment demands of a constitutional republic.

Challenge conventional wisdom and get to the bottom of things. The truth is elusive, but like most things rare (diamonds, gold, love, etc.), it is one of the most precious things in the world.

Great post Ninevah, thanks for sharing...!

Naytron said...

Very well written.

Almost worth doing a story about it.

what age frame trust you the most or the least? and why...

i dont know.

I like you writings.

Anonymous said...

Ninevah, very thougtful blog. I watch the news, but take it with a grain of salt usually. I like hearing the human interest stories and the local news. The national stories rarely peak my curiosity. The swine flu was a good example of how people feed off of words like pandemic. I watched fox13's coverage of it and also read about it, I was never scared or worried about catching it, I didn't keep my kids from school, didn't avoid public places. I firmly beleive there a huge lack of education in this country in our generation. they hear what's on the news and the internet, they beleive it, then when it dies(like the swine flu) they blame the media for spreading the panic and hype. When I say lack of education I'm not talking about formal schooling. I never went to college, in fact i didn't graduate high school(I did get my GED). I'm talking about taking some responsibility adn doing some research for one's self, not just relying on things that are heard on the news or read on the internet. Well i've rambled on long enough. Just want to say I have a huge respect for what you do, and enjoy watching every morning. Keep up the good work. author: Matt

Rochelle said...

I somewhat recently wrote a blog on the Fox website titled "The Wisdom of Chris Matthews".

It could answer your question from the perspective of a person who lived that period of journalism.

I remember field reports from Vietnam ... the Kent State tragedy ... Kennedy's assasination ... man first landing on the moon ... Nixon's downfall.

There are no more Woodward and Bernsteins, it would seem. Any such hero would risk losing their job.

Anonymous said...

It's all disposeable diapers now. Not enough Legends showcased in the media to look up too.

How on earth did an unknown somebody get you to go to a bbq unknown???? That only happens to me I thought????

I love your writing, very capturing..hmmm?


SSBenjamins said...

If they thought the swine flu was blown up out of the water~ well, I think regardless it made me realize that I need to have my food storage or medical necessities (sp?) in order in preperation for the day that it does hit and we all are in our homes..
I have 2 daughters who were born premature~ illness goes right to there lungs: Swine flu would kill them, my bro born @ 26 weeks, multiply disabled; The swine flu would kill him also. I think we should be cautious and know that this is something that will be back, are we ready for it??

CoyoteDKM said...

The news business is just doing their job, when it comes to swine flu anyway. It was over-reported, but no one knew how serious it was at first and that is to blame for the over-reporting, not news people scheming to pump up ratings. People in general, not just people who work in the news, tend to react strongly to the unknown.

When it comes to distrust of the media, that is a reality. It is mainly because of political issues. It is obvious that different news corporations have different political leanings, and that influences what they report and how they report it. And whenever it is pointed out, they deny it. That makes people loose trust in them.

FOX is the best, I think, because at least they make a conscious effort to be balanced. Of course it is not always achieved, but at least they try. Most other news organizations just flatly deny there is even a bias, and outright insult the intelligence of the majority of the world by denying what is obvious to everyone but them, apparently. So to the observer, it creates the impression that they are either purposely being lied to or that the people who work for those organizations are in denial.

I wouldn't take it personally.

I love your name, by the way.