This is the final segment in a 4-part continuing series on the state of journalism in the U.S. Links to the rest of the series are at the bottom.
REASONS WHY THE NEWS MEDIA IN AMERICA IS SO DYSFUNCTIONAL
7. Agenda driven political coverage is actually preferred by some in the audience as it helps validate their existing feelings.
There are enough media choices today that a person can select media that reinforces their current beliefs. Human nature being what it is, people like to have their opinions validated. If someone thinks government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub, then it makes them mad to hear anyone claim otherwise. Who wants to get angry while watching TV?
Research has shown that most people only pay attention to media that won’t challenge their existing belief system. That’s too bad. To me, the entire idea of news is to learn something new and challenge existing conventional wisdom. Instead, what you get are news organizations pandering to the audience to keep them happy.
Audiences tend to be loyal to whatever media they watch and listen to. In my experience, the more extreme the media source, the more loyal the audience. If you tell a Rush Limbaugh fan that he is not a credible source of information, they will not believe you. I’ve tried. I get the same reaction every time. They just assume I am one of the evil people Rush rails against.
THE CRAZIER THEY GET, THE MORE DEDICATED THEIR AUDIENCE
Go even further into the land of crazy media, and tell an Alex Jones or David Ickes fan that those guys are off the wall and they will probably cuss you out. I’ve had personal experience with this too.
David Ickes tells his audience that alien shape-shifting lizards rule the world. Queen Elizabeth is really an alien lizard who only looks human according to David Ickes.
In today’s internet world, people can find validation for any “fact,” no matter how absurd. Trying to convince them that the evidence is not credible is not productive. A former friend who believes in Ickes told me I was an “unclean spirit” after I said he was crazy. She wrote me out of her life. I was ok with that.
8. The demands of filling 24 hours, 7 days a week are overwhelming.
I hear people complain that TV news is filled is very repetitive and filled with fluff.
Yup, sure is.
If you wanted to have true quality TV news that did not say the same thing over and over, then you’d have to limit it to one or two hours a day, or have a staff so darn big it’d cost a fortune.
In all honesty, there really isn’t that much substantial news every single day.
Filling time is one of the major goals of any TV news organization. Lots of it gets filled with fluff and nonsense because that’s easier, cheaper to produce and often has more audience appeal than real journalism.
Think for a minute about what happens when some big tragedy happens and they do not have any details yet. They want to stay on the “big” story, but they have no facts to go on. If one has no facts, its wise to just SHUT UP! but they can not do that. So they fill time with endless speculation, opinion and hearsay. The vast majority of it is totally worthless, even damaging. If they were not obligated to fill 24 hours with “news,” they could run a game show or something until they get their facts straight, then go on the air.
Alas, this reasonable course of action is not possible with the relentless demands of 24 hour news.
9. In TV News especially, star power often rules.
Have you ever worked alongside an ego maniac? Someone who ALWAYS thinks they are right, no matter what? Someone who ALWAYS demands their way, no matter what?
In TV News, some anchor people (reporters or even news directors) develop egos the size of the planet Jupiter. This not only makes working conditions unpleasant, but also creates a situation where decisions are made to appease the ego maniac. One ego maniac deciding what gets covered is NOT the best way to go about it.
It’s also true that at the network level, some of the “star” anchors make so darn much money that there isn’t much money left for anything else. Personally, I’d rather see more reporters and videographers out in the field covering the news of the day than see an anchor make an annual salary of $10 million.
When Keith Olberman left Current TV and complained they did not have adequate equipment to broadcast, I was furious with him. How about he take a lesser salary to help build a better organization? Notice how that was not even discussed.
10. To do quality journalism, the journalist has to feel OK with being the bad guy, the “snitch,” or “tattletale.” This goes against basic human nature of wanting to be liked.
The playground tattletale is a hated individual. The town gossip is usually not too popular either. Snitch in some circles and that’s enough to get you shot!
The role of a “real” journalist is to dig up the hidden truth and reveal it to the world. The oppressed or victimized folks might love you for it, but many people will vilify you.
I have seen plenty of instances where a good reporter would dig up some undeniable dirt on a politician or other public figure yet still get phone calls complaining that they shouldn’t be so mean to Congressman Sleazebag because he holds awesome BBQs.
How comfortable would you feel interviewing someone, looking them square in the eye and asking them embarrassing questions?
Face it, lots of people get away with sleazy behavior because your average Joe is too afraid to confront them. People do not want to appear mean, or they figure they should mind their own business. All this is ingrained in us since birth. To be a “real” journalist, you have to get over that desire to be the nice guy everybody likes because he never makes waves.
It’s a journalist’s job to make waves. Lots of people in the industry simply do not have the personal courage to be the “bad guy.” I admit to having suffered from this myself. I’ve gotten over it or Demand Real Journalism! would not exist.
Now granted some reporters I’ve known enjoyed being the bad guy so much they became self righteous and very obnoxious arbitrators of right and wrong. A balance is what is needed.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
If a reporter develops the reputation for being relentless in his pursuit of damaging truths, it will get to the point where no one will talk to them at all. Of course, this renders a reporter completely ineffective. A reporter relies on sources so if all mouths clamp shut when Jimmy Olsen walks into a room, then poor Jimmy won’t be able to produce a story by deadline.
I think this is a major factor in why so many political reporters go easy on the politicians they cover. Even though she is always quite polite and respectful, MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow rarely gets conservatives to go on her show because they know she’ll give them the grilling of a lifetime. They prefer to go on Fox where they know they’ll get nothing but softball questions.
11. People with a vested interest, like politicians, find it easy to manipulate the media, so they do.
The media is easily manipulated. For all the reasons I’ve already stated, lack of resources, desperation to fill time, etc., most anybody with the desire can manipulate the media. If you have enough money, you can manipulate them big time, just hire a PR firm. But it does not necessarily take a lot of money to manipulate the media into reporting your agenda as the truth.
Remember the movie Borat? Wow, is that ever a good example of someone manipulating the media to his advantage. Too bad all manipulators are not so harmless. Seemingly harmless anyway, certainly funny.
The comedian who played Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen, (for the record, I think he is BRILLIANT) got tons of publicity for his movie by going on TV news shows claiming to be his character, Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakhstani journalist. He simply called up these TV stations and told them he was Borat Sagdiyev and wanted to come on their show. Apparently, no one really questioned him abut the truth of that initial statement.
The shows he approached were mostly low grade shows, like morning shows and noon shows in local markets. Those shows are notoriously desperate to fill time and do not feel the need to be real “newsy” because of their time slot. Fluff is acceptable to producers of those types of shows. So Cohen managed to get on lots of these shows even though his entire spiel was a lie.
NO ONE EVEN BOTHERED TO ASK THE MOST BASIC QUESTIONS OR CHECK OUT HIS CREDENTIALS!
I read about a few low-level producers being fired over this, but to me, that sounded like nothing but upper management passing the buck and finding scapegoats. Once the hoax was revealed, news directors whose stations had been hoodwinked expressed horror and outrage that this could happen! Then they’d blame it on poor little Suzie Q, the intern. Oh please! All kinds of people go on those shows without being properly vetted. Most of them are truly who they say they are so no problems arise, but that does not mean their information is 100% fully accurate, unbiased or commercial free. It may not even be important.
Remember, stations are desperate to fill time so virtually anyone who wants to get on a morning or noon show can do so if they just ask. Marketing experts suggest all the time that their clients do this. This is self-serving promotions, not news.
THE SATELLITE MEDIA TOUR
Public relations firms work on behalf of politicians, authors and business people who need publicity. Back when I was the healthcast producer, I had so many PR firms calling me wanting me to interview authors of “medical” books. The interviews were done over satellite and all expenses were paid by the PR firm. All I had to do was take five minutes to talk to the guy, they’d record it and ship it to me.
My favorite was the guy who wrote a diet book claiming people were fat because they were allergic to vegetables. Go on a diet and what do you eat? Vegetables! Then boom, the allergy makes you fat! Interesting theory doc!
They set up this satellite media tour with about 50 reporters all over the country. I was the only one who questioned the veracity of his claims. All the rest just asked for details and assumed he was telling the truth. I told him the entire concept was insane and accused him of pandering to a desperate audience who wanted to be let off the hook for eating too much.
The PR firms stopped calling me after that, but I was A-OK with that. None of their stories were worth doing anyway.
I hope you have enjoyed this article explaining WHY the news media is so bad in this country. My goal is to expose why the news media is so bad so together, we can come up with solutions. My dream is to start an internet video news organization that is bold enough to cut through the crap and report some FACTS on critical issues that affect us all. Please consider donating to the cause. The first topic I wish to cover is the healthcare system in American and the effects of new government regulations. Believe me, the PR firms paid by the insurance companies have hidden the truth quite well. I truly believe most of us do not really know what the new regulations are all about because the facts were simply not covered well.
Thanks for reading Demand Real Journalism!
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Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and Journalism Advocate
Here are 15 articles on the blog for Demand Real Journalism, plus one about me, in case that is a concern.