13 June 2007

One True Faith

No one believes in journalism like journalists. Ask one and you'll see. Journalists believe that they truly are the "Fourth Estate," the one group in society that cares for the sake of caring and not for filthy lucre.

And who can blame them? Newspaper reporters get paid for shit. TV news reporters in anything but the largest markets get paid somewhat less than pet groomers. And radio newspeople, if they exist at all - fuhgeddaboudit.It is sick. Most journalists don't make it out of their twenties or early thirties in the business. They can't afford to. They sell out, go into PR or marketing or technical writing (ahem) because they have families and bills to pay and food to put on the table.

But some people persist. They persist because they believe in the power of watchdogs, the power of letting people know the truth. God bless our ink-stained wretches. I wish I could bring myself to be one of them, which is why it galls me to no end to read shit like this comment on a friend's blog:
Actually, I don’t think there are any fair an balanced journalists out there.
That kind of talk raises my blood pressure. I know it is a popular view, a view that is encouraged by those in power and also by the crappy quality of news, especially TV news.

But realize this, people: those in power love your cynicism. They feed it. There is a reason they are always trying to inject skepticism about journalism, about schools, about government, into our lives. Right-wing talk shows and certain news channels are all about destroying our beliefs in these things, because if we become cynical, we quit participating. We quit reading the newspaper, we take our kids out of the schools, we don't vote. All of those things are great for the powerful, because the less we participate, the less they have to do to gain the upper hand.

Who else is there to keep an eye on things? Business and government aren't going to police themselves. Is journalism important? Only important enough that the founders mentioned it in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Anyone who doesn't believe that journalists try to be fair and balanced should spend some time in a newsroom and listen in on the conversations and see the lengths people go to to get the other side, even if the other side is a bunch of nutballs (I always use the example that if there is a group that is against killing puppies, your editor wants you to get a quote from the one loco who thinks killing puppies is a fabulous idea). The reporters I worked with lived and breathed and bled for fairness. 90% of them were true believers, people who tried and tried and tried some more. And the others weren't bad, just tired and depressed.

Do I think journalism is in trouble? Absolutely. But IMO it isn't because of the mass of idealistic, hard-working journalists. It is because of the corporate media conglomeration and cutbacks in budgets. Pay journalists well and give them a decent expense account and THEN see what kind of reporting you get. But if we did that, they might dig up some REAL dirt, the kind of dirt that takes time and money to find...no, better to report on Paris Behind Bars.

In the meantime, I'm not asking you to read the paper or watch the news, but I would like to ask you to examine knee-jerk reactions like "there are no fair and balanced journalists" and try to figure out where that came from. Perhaps you are being manipulated and don't even know it.

17 comments:

super des said...

Preach it!

I do believe that media in general does not give the whole truth, but I also believe that not every single person involved is responsible for that. Some people don't want to make waves, but some don't care - as long as the truth gets out.

Go Suebob.

jonniker said...

I don't even like comments like "the media doesn't give the whole truth." I really, as Suebob said, don't think that anyone has any idea what journalists go through, or what presenting the "whole truth" entails.

I honestly wish that everyone could be a journalist for a week, and see what it's like. Every journalist has a personal bias - they're human beings and have beliefs just like everyone else - but nearly every journalist checks that bias at the door when they go to work, and yes, Suebob, you're right, those are the situations where we bust our asses even harder to get the other side out.

I hate this "I hate the media" mentality so many people seem to have. I don't think anyone has any idea how lucky we are to have an unrestricted media, or how hard that media works to serve them. Seriously.

Alison said...

I'm a journalism grad turned tech wrier too. When I was in J-school, we were forewarned that fair and balanced was hard work. We were instructed to examine our own opinions and values in earnest and to be mindful of when they clouded our judgement as writers/reporters. That's not an easy thing to do, and it's why so many reporters end up reporting in black and white, trying to give the appearance of fairness by balancing the extremes of an issue. The best journalists, however, the ones winning the Pulitzers, report in the grey. They ignore the polarities and examine the middle, the center, the hidden fist of the issue. And you're right - if I could make as much doing that as I do editing magazines for high-tech software companies, I'd be right there prying back the fingers of that fist myself, exposing the center.

Skye said...

I definitely don't understand how journalists are expected to produce fair, informative, balanced pieces when they aren't given the time or money to really learn about a topic - and I get the impression they don't.

Skye said...

To be clear, my above comment should probably say something like "and I get the impression they aren't given that."

Andrea said...

I wrote about something along these vein (but a little bit different after the Knight Ridder sale) last year. It wasn't so much about the "fair and balanced" part you discuss as it was about the pitiful pay and the expectations of work. Here's the link, if you're interested:

http://littlebalddoctors.wordpress.com/2006/04/21/pulitzers-no-more/


I think my favorite quote ever that I read about journalism and media in general (that I highlighted in my own post last year) is: no other product for public consumption has the ability to define reality in the way that news and newspapers do.

With that comes a heavy burden and an inherent integrity of even the most basic of reporting.

Andrea said...

Something happened when Blogger published my comment.

Here's the link

QT said...

You are preaching to the choir over here, sister. $24K a year to start, and I wish people COULD hear the convos in the newsroom, or see what it is like to sit and listen to a police scanner all night when you are first starting out. Or have your story ruined by a piss-poor headline the copy editor wrote.

If I could make a decent living -DECENT, I don't need a Lexus or bonuses or anything - I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Day Dreamer said...

Give 'em hell, Sistah, give 'em hell!

Lisa said...

Great post Suebob.

I can not wait to meet you at Blogger and sit around a table, drinking drinks and discussing lots of cool stuff. Ok. Unless you realize I'm a complete moron and you try to hide from me. In that case, you may get some exercise ducking and dodging me. heehee

Lisa said...

P.S. I wanted to go into newspapers when I graduated from college. I asked a person at the local paper what I should be asking for salarywise. She said, "I wouldn't take anything less than $7 an hour. $9 an hour if you're at a daily." I about DIED. I had been living with my parents throughout college. I endured 22 years of verbal and occassional physical abuse so I went into PR. I HAD to get out of my parents home.

QofS said...

I may marry you for this post.

Seriously.

Will you marry me? To hell with my husband, he can't tell it like this my sister.

QofS said...

and yes, I started my first J job at um...14K a year. A YEAR. And when I made it to the second biggest market in the US I did not make enough to support my family.

however, as a REAL journalist I actually took time out from reading press releases and did some investigative reporting.

It's not all fast food journalism.

As for the whole "blame the media" idea in this country...last time I checked they were NOT teaching how to slant your stories to the left in classes or how to make sure you get in a *fill in the current political party* dig.

Some people will never get that we are the only ones holding the fabric of this country together.

Mom101 said...

You said it!

I hate all the blame the media crap, and I do think there's a distinction between journalists and the Murdochs/Ailes of the world. Thanks for pointing out the dstinction.

ByJane said...

right on, sueb0b! my first job was for pacifica radio--they don't pay nuthin'. The better paying my jobs got the less they were journalism, the more entertainment. I don't think it's possible anymore (if ever) to speak essentially about Journalists. The motive--or as Aristotle might have put it, the rhetorical purpose of the publication holds sway. And it's often in conflict with the motive of the journalist. What we need is not better or different journalists; we need a more alert and informed audience.

wordgirl said...

I guaran-damn-tee you that FOX "NEWS" only cares about their own agenda. Who brings more wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole/Britney Spears/plus every murder/kidnapping/suicide? They do. It's all sensationalism with a lovely flag flying in the background to subliminally remind you what a patriot you are for watching the "right" news show. It's all right-wing propaganda and I know that they don't worry too much about providing both sides of the story. To them, there is only one side. Theirs. And that, my friends, isn't news. It's Al Jazeera.

Nancy said...

A-MEN.

I just left a comment on my friend PunditMom's blog, in reference to Dan Rather's recent derogatory comments about Katie Couric. I honestly believe that people aren't reacting to Katie as anchor by tuning out, but they are reacting to the production and editorial aspects of today's TV news: sensationalistic, looking for reactions. I don't think it's because the journalists spin it that way. I think it's all about the almighty dollar -- and for this reason the news is controlled by the presidents of the media corporations and the advertisers.

(but of course I'm not throwing all the media corporation execs or advertisers out with the bathwater...) ;-)

(end rant...)

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