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.