November 6, 2010 by falcon7204
I have heard folks lament the current state of the news media since during the Clinton administration. These days, it’s being called the Lame-stream Media (thanks to former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg). And I’ve heard people long for the days when reporters simply reported the facts and let people make up their own minds about the story.
There’s only one problem: Those days never happened.
You might remember in the late 18th century, during the Industrial Revolution and the rise of urban areas and large newspapers, something called “yellow journalism.” If you don’t remember it, here’s a brief explanation: Newspapers simply printed whatever they wanted to, facts be damned. (In fact, either Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde is believed to have said, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”) In those days, editorials masqueraded as straight news items. But in the middle of the 20th Century, editors (and later, broadcasters) held themselves and reporters to a higher standard. The Society of Professional Journalists has an ethics code that requires reporters to attribute their facts (you can read the ethics code here) and, among other things, requires journalists to “(e)xamine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.” And when I was in journalism school, you abided by the 5 “Ws” and one “H” – who, what, when, where, why, and how.
But reporters have never done more than give lip service to the SPJ code of ethics. If it’s a question of higher ratings/bigger circulation or telling the truth, which one do you think would be more conducive to a reporter keeping his or her job? The truth, sadly, doesn’t sell. And these days, when you turn on the TV, is there any truth to be found? When you watch MSNBC, or CNN, or FOX News, or even C-SPAN, do you get the sense that those who bring you the story of the day’s events have your best interests and desire to be truthfully informed at heart?
I used to be a TV reporter. I did it for nine years before I decided that no one was interested in the truth. I had a Clark Kent-type naievete about the news business and my role in it. But my eyes were opened by anchors and fellow reporters who were more interested in getting the “big story” (and teasing it so the biggest possible audience saw or read it). It was, and is, disgusting to me to see the truth turned turtle, and the big losers in all of this are the viewers and readers who require – nay, demand – information with which to live their daily lives.
Now, with the Internet and “new media” at our fingertips, the mainstream (lame-stream?) media is in danger of becoming irrelevant. And I wonder, if a reporter was to write the media’s obituary, would anyone read it?