That’s ok. True, I got into this business to write about sports, but life has a habit of carrying you in different directions. I found I enjoy opinion writing. I like to rattle cages, so I always looked at the criticism as part of the game.
Over time, as we became more polarized and less trustful of people who dealt in the information business — this includes not just journalists, but scholars, experts and scientists — the antagonism has become more vehement.
By the end of my time working in newsrooms, I found myself fearing for the safety of those I sent to cover certain events and topics. In the wake of the Capital Gazette, it became standard to have escape plans and codewords in newsrooms. More than once, I had to attempt to diffuse situations in the building.
The Coronavirus chaos has only served to highlight those divisions further — those who want information, and those who subscribe to conspiracies.
The latter argument, in short, is it’s all the media’s fault my bracket was prematurely busted. It’s impeachment 2.0. It sensationalized. It’s overblown. They just want to make the president look bad.
Admittedly, with a lack of coherent messaging, many of the reactions by leagues, businesses, governments and institutions seem almost draconian. I’m dialed in to current events, and I have unanswered questions. I understand the concept of “flattening the curve,” but I also understand the perceptionthis is too much, too fast.
I’m an outlier. Many aren’t dialed in. They see these things in terms of their personal views — their personal bias. That’s not a knock, it’s reality. We’d like everyone to be good news consumers, but the fact of the matter is, most people don’t understand how to use the news, why they get what they get, and they don’t want to invest the time and effort to do so.
Journalism consumption isn’t easy. It can’t be spoon-fed. Reporters bust their tails to learn as much as they can about issues and synthesize that to an audience — to varying degrees of success. Often, it must be done quickly, which means things may need to be corrected later. And, multiple cuts in staff mean there are far, far fewer eyes reading that copy before it is place on a page or a website.
That means the reader should applying their own filter. Not taking what they read as the gospel, but reading multiple stories. Multiple interviews with different experts, and from different points of view. Then form opinions on that research.
All the while, particularly in an evolving pandemic such as this, as events are canceled and as institutions close, as a matter or record, it is reported.
Example: I stayed away from posting coverage of coronavirus specifically because I was waiting to see where it went. SARS, H1N1, Bird Flu, Swine Flu – we had seen many of these in the past, and the effect on our lives was minimal.
My tact in covering the now pandemic changed, however, as it began to touch every corner of our lives. At that point, the news of the situation was the impact — closings and market fluctuations — as hundreds of league commissioners, governors, mayors, school superintendents and college presidents made sweeping decisions.
Reporting fact is not sensationalizing. It may be overwhelming, but that’s not on the journalist. It’s the record. If the consumer goes off the reservation and buys out all the TP, that’s not the fault of the reporting. There is a point where the personal responsibility of the consumer becomes a factor.
Complicating that issue, and contrary to what “news” consumers say, is no one is really interested in straight news. That’s why it isn’t profitable. People want opinion and analysis. If we (and by we, I mean society) really wanted dry news — just the facts — it would still dominate the market. It doesn’t. The evening lineups of our “news” networks are instead dominated by ideologues and entertainers.
Today’s “news” consumer is not so much seeking information as they are seeking validation of that which they already believe. Anything that doesn’t mesh with their worldview is biased, or worse, agenda-based “fakenews.”
“News” networks are happy to oblige. After all, it’s all about ratings. You want White House talking points? Fox has a lineup of folks happy to serve them up, and advertisers happy to cash in. And if you want the opposite, MSNBC is ready and waiting. Give the people what they want.
And, all too often in recent years, it trickles into print. Analysis that is often opinion masquerading as journalism.
None of this is new. Balanced journalism, as I have said many times in the past, is a relatively new development. Newspapers were always agenda-driven. The constitutional right of a free press was not based on objective reporting, it was based on the right to print inflammatory op-eds.
The trend of objectivity experienced in much of the second half of the 20thcentury is the abnormality. A luxury granted to an institution with a captive audience. When the consumer began to reassert control — television ratings, internet clicks —outlets had to respond to the demands of the market. Those that don’t disappear.
If consumers were clamoring for straight, hard news, Headline News would still be running headlines and not true crime programming. Nightly news would still be a must-see. Newspapers wouldn’t be withering on the vine. Consuming news is hard work, and quite frankly, “We” aren’t interested.
“We” want excitement. Sensationalism provides that. “We” want conflict. Opinion-based news gives us that. The networks are giving us what “We” want, because we are capitalists. “News” is a product that must be sold, not a public service. Take it from someone with almost three decades of experience in trying to be objective, you ain’t buyin’.
One result of that is a clouding of definitions. People throw around terms like “The Media,” “News” and “Journalism” is if they are synonymous. They are not. I think it is fair to say many of us have complaints about the media, but what it is delivering is not journalism. It is, however, responding to market demands, and the only thing that would change that is if we changed our behavior.
Play the blame game as we may, we get exactly "The Media" we deserve.