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Thoughts on Fixing the News Media

FAKE NEWS STOK PHOTOWHY IS THE NEWS MEDIA SO DESTRUCTIVE AND HOW CAN WE FIX IT?

When I contemplate the full repercussions of the 24-hour, anything-in-the-world-goes information cycle, it scares me a bit.  In my observation, as well as shown scientifically, humans are alarmingly susceptible to succumbing their will to authoritarian information and directives.  It seems to be a trait of the species.

Television is absolutely mesmerizing, especially for children.  Television rewrote the world of communication. As someone who grew up in the first generation of TV watchers and then worked thirty years in the media, I am convinced beyond a doubt that television revolutionized human society more than we give it credit.  And we give it a lot of credit!

Visual communication works on the brain and psyche in such an enormously powerful way, I strongly feel like most people are powerless to its’ influence.

This has both positive and negative repercussions.  It entirely depends on whether the content itself pushes  a positive idea or negative one.

Constant bombardment with emotionally stimulating visual messaging has a tremendously intense effects on the audience.

Nazi propaganda minister joseph goebbels
While the wife of Joseph Goebbels was back at the bunker poisoning their children right before Russia stormed Berlin at the end of WWII, Goebbels was on the radio proclaiming German victory was just round the corner. Never underestimate how much some people are willing to lie.

I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that due to technological advancements and devious public relations methods, manipulation and  brainwashing are an easier task to accomplish today than anytime in human history.

Joseph Goebbels merely had radio and film to work with. Today’s propaganda masters have radio, film, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Public relations and mass media methods today have a much greater ability to craft messages individually crafted to appeal specifically to the person receiving it.

In other words, Fred gets a message saying Trump is going to save the world with his trade policies and Mary gets a message saying Hillary Clinton should be granted sainthood as a champion of women.

The senders of these messages are 100% sure Fred and Mary will like and agree with whatever they are being fed.  These information producers have analyzed thousands of “likes” and “shares” made by Fred and Mary on social media and have us all pegged down to the nano trait.

Human nature goes to work and the already-biased viewpoints of Fred and Mary are further cemented in a cascade of emotion.  Emotion is a necessary element to make people actually get up off the couch and act.

Enormous amounts of money and effort are put into a vast industry dedicated to slyly crafting agenda-driven messages to achieve optimal brainwashing and manipulative behavioral effect.

devil plays fiddle
Tartini Devil’s Trill Sonata is positively beautiful music, but this haunting image reminds us that it’s buyer beware in the world of information.  There are so many interests out there vying for our attention and trust.  I truly believe we are all a fiddle in someone’s orchestra.  Few have our best interests at heart.

In other words, the PR masters and are playing you like a fiddle.

They’re playing all of us.  Don’t take that as an insult.

It’s not just in the political realm where widespread use of misinformation drives behavior.

I strongly believe the public relations business has invaded the journalism business to the point where the cautious consumer sadly needs to be wary of any message they hear, whether it’s that chocolate is healthy, toothpaste will help you get dates, or that a reverse mortgage is a good idea for granny.

alex jones info wars
I am convinced that media figures like Alex Jones have zero desire to be truthful. Jones is a con artist.  His lies are destructive but lies sell better on the free market than truth.  That is a sad, sad fact I forced myself to accept after  decades of personal observation with media ratings.

The media is enormous and certainly not monolithic.  Discussing media can become confusing if you don’t differentiate the hundreds of diverse players.

With the internet, anyone can cheaply and easily spread any nonsense they wished.    This created something called micro targeted news and information sources that can survive on just a tiny sliver of the overall audience.

They call it “sliver casting” instead of broadcasting.

That translates into many media outlets catering to the strangest of tastes and opinions.

Truth can get lost quickly.

At the same time, I truly believe a lot of excellent  journalism is going on today.  Many traditional media outlets and their dedicated journalists are getting noticed favorably.

Given the volatility on the world stage, more people are turning to media for answers.  Lots of journalists and media outlets are pulling through and delivering admirable reporting.

On the other hand, sane people still have to endure the antics of misinformation specials and conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones.  Alex Jones is an example of this micro targeting, or what might be called sliver casting, as opposed to broadcasting.  He has a tiny audience compared to CNN, but they are fiercely loyal and insists he speak the pure truth.

I see the standout quality journalism getting some of the respect I think it so richly deserves.  I am hoping to see a significant revival in the credibility of the news media with the population.

media logos media companies

The MSM is not perfect but it certainly is not the enemy of the people. Personally I believe it is a dangerous trend to vilify credible journalism.

The problem is that we have an environment where there is fierce debate over what qualifies as quality journalism.  Alex Jones fans think he is awesome and CNN is nothing but a apathetic tool of the Deep State.

Lorraine Grula with video camera
Me about 1990. This was on vacation visiting my mom so that is a home VHS camera not any I used professionally but I have zero pictures of me actually working.  I was always behind the camera not in front of it.

THOUGHTS FROM AN OLD FASHIONED NEWS GAL

Running around with a video camera on my shoulder covering all manner of life and death issues gave me a deep appreciation for humanity and the struggles experienced by every one of us.

I felt honored to have the glorious opportunity of getting to know so many people on a deep enough level in a quick period of time in order to tell their stories to the world.

I strived to create stories that were fair, factual and informative for the viewer.  I believe I succeeded the majority of the time.  It is not always a cut and dry task.

wsmv billboard
This billboard reminds me of the good old days of my career working at WSMV-TV in Nashville, TN.  I am guessing this is from around 2000.

My experiences in TV News also gave me great insight on the world of media.  Far from the ideals of my childhood, media today falls far short of its important role of government watchdog and objective informer of the public.  This is not because individual journalists are corrupt but because the money and power behind the media simply do not want to publicize the truth.

Personally, I think the “news” media, and perhaps more importantly the perception of the news media with the public, is so bad that it is harming our nation.

Conflict is at an all time high and some go so far as to predict civil war breaking out.

So many aspects of the news media divide us, spread untruths and leave the population confused, not informed.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Journalism needs to make a comeback.

My early experiences at WSMV-TV proved real journalism is not only possible to create, it can also be popular. WSMV-TV News ratings were sky high. In part, that was due to a wildly popular and definitely NON intellectual morning show, the Ralph Emery Show, but the city of Nashville absolutely loved WSMV-TV news too.  Journalism was highly coveted by management in the early days.  The news department produced groundbreaking stories that became the stuff of industry legend.

wsmv christmas card
WSMV TV newsroom staff photo Christmas card.

When analyzing societal effects, the decline of the trustworthiness and prestige of the news media is clearly connected to greater distrust of government and all other institutions once revered.

It’s happened for a perfect storm of reasons which I won’t go into now but suffice to say that the effects of widespread misinformation appear to be at least partially responsible for monumental global upheaval.

I think the failings of our news media exacerbate every other problem our country faces.  With such divisive and superficial coverage, it’s no wonder that no one can seem to get past the petty arguments and name calling.

How are we supposed to work on solutions when we can not even discuss problems rationally?

american flag and washington monumentIS GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION THE WAY TO FIX THIS?

In a word, no but some changes in ownership rules might be helpful.

Public education and a rebranding for the public image of journalism will help more than anything else IMHO.

I could write a book on how we got into this mess, but certainly one of the most pivotal occurrences was the Reagan administration doing away with a law known as The Fairness Doctrine.

WHAT IS THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE?

With the invention of television, the country had to figure out how it was going to deal with this newfound and quite lucrative commodity, the public airwaves.  

early broadcasting rooftop antennas

The country decided those granted the privilege of controlling the limited public airwaves had to be responsible.  The Fairness Doctrine required television and radio stations prove to the government they were fair and gave equal airtime to both sides in public debate.  If they could not verify that they were using the public airwaves responsibly they could not get a broadcasting license.

In reality, it meant some low level workers at the TV station filling out a bunch of paperwork and giving Uncle Sam our program logs for all public affairs and news programing.  It usually seemed more like a formality of bureaucratic paperwork, not any kind of grueling inquisition by Big Brother.

The Fairness Doctrine was only applicable to the PUBLIC AIRWAVES.  When cable TV came along, it was ruled largely exempt from any government restrictions.  This is largely because cable TV had to be paid for by the consumer and was not broadcast free over the public airwaves.

Then of course the internet brought a whole new dimension to the ease of becoming a content provider.  No one needs a broadcasting license and a zillion bucks to start a media empire.

There are definitely some benefits to that fact, but the drawback is being awash in lies and fabrications.

So many agendas competing for so many minds and the end result is mass confusion and conflict.  I do not believe this is good for the soul of our nation.

Today’s media environment is so different than the early days of broadcasting I say there is no conceivable way any US law could follow the first amendment and require fairness and balance from all media outlets we are exposed to daily.

genie out of the bottleFORGET IT!

In other words, the genie is out of the bottle.  We can’t just reinstate the Fairness Doctrine with any realistic hopes it would truly help. A lot of people say otherwise, but I think that is merely wishful thinking.

The laws governing media ownership on the other hand might help although we will never get back to the glory days of broadcast journalism.

In the early days of broadcasting, there were laws against any one company owning lots of media outlets.  The government wanted to avoid any single  viewpoint having a monopoly on the news.  The goal was to ensure a good balance of information would reach the public.

Media ownership rules were loosened over the years by conservative politics and big money interests.  This allowed a few huge corporations to control the entire television news industry in addition to much of the radio and print media.

It would make a big difference of we were able to break up those monopolies and redistribute media outlets to a more diverse ownership.

No doubt this effort would be fiercely fought by the media conglomerates.  They would probably claim the US government is punishing them for their success and destroying the free market.

They would have many persuasive arguments, but overall, I think the other side wins.  I could make many logical and fair arguments on the dangers of both information monopoly and capital monopoly

The danger of wide scale propaganda gaslighting a nation is a danger we can not ignore if you ask me.

Would you agree?

That’s an argument for another post.    This one is long enough!

Here on this blog, let’s start a dialogue about the news media, science, politics, and any other topic you find relevant.  Leave a comment below.

Thanks for visiting and here’s to a better world.

Lorraine Grula

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Lorraine Grula


Lorraine Grula enjoyed a fast-paced, multifaceted career in the television and video business, producing, shooting, writing, and editing documentary-style videos in both news and corporate settings. Later, she got to teach media and video production in two high schools, which then morphed into instructional design and corporate training. Lorraine is now dedicated to sharing her vast knowledge with others who wish to learn the art of video making, with an emphasis on storytelling and creating professional-quality videos for the internet as simply, yet creatively as possible.

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