COMMENTARY: It is important – now more than ever

by Jun 23, 2020OPINIONS




I have often been critical (constructively, of course) of the tendency of media organizations, particularly news organizations, to mix opinion and fact in news reporting. The title “reporter” or “journalist”, by definition, is documenting factual happenings or taking factual testimony about a happening. Period.

Unlike sports, history does not need pundits to do play-by-play analysis. It used to be news organizations’ objective to provide the public with information to make informed decisions about living. Those days are long gone, and we now live in an age where large media conglomerates are exerting their power of persuasion to guide society into a way of life that they or their advertisers have determined to be appropriate. Unfortunately, we, as a community, are also seeing regional and local media organizations follow suit by infusing their reporting with writer commentary that, intentionally or not, manipulates the readers to a specific conclusion about a situation.

Watching the level of hate and violence rise as the media fans the flames, almost literally, should give us all pause and should rally us as a community to be more vigilant and do our own research before we pick up our torch and follow the villagers to burn down the city. The voices of reason are being drowned out by the voices of specific causes. And, in many cases, the media is controlling what and who gets seen and heard. News outlets can impact hundreds, thousands, and millions of people. News outlets have a finite amount of time in a news day. So, even in the scheduling of who gets to bend your ear, media outlets may and are deciding, based on their own biases, which direction they will lead you in.

Many media outlets have become nothing more than public relations offices. Please do not be deceived. A public relations unit in a business or government is not a news organization. A PR firm or arm of an entity is not tasked necessarily with providing you fact or documentation of history. They are tasked with highlighting the positive, spinning the negative in a positive light, and, if necessary, hiding the negative for the good of the organization. Public relations people get paid to ensure that the organization they represent comes out in a positive light and that the press releases they deliver guide a constituency or client base in a specific direction.

If a reporter is doing the job right, to the best of their ability, they are leaving their biases and opinions on an event at the door. When they pick up their pen or finger their keyboard, the journalist’s personal opinions are suppressed to provide the most nonpartisan picture possible for their readers, hearers, and seers.

This is absolutely not what we are seeing in our media environment today. We are in one of the most divisive environments that I have seen in my 60 years on earth. Part of it is our fault as news consumers. We like it when the media tickles our ears and tells us that the mindset that we have is the right one. We like being in “the majority”. We want to feel like we matter. And, we want people to acknowledge it, regardless of what “side” that we may be on.

Media organizations depend on readers or viewership to sell advertisements. They make money when we watch their programs and their sponsors’ advertisements. So, from an economic standpoint, your least profitable news organizations are likely to be those who report free from personal bias.

Whether we, as reporters, agree with an object of reporting or not, it is our duty to provide “just the facts” when we are writing and presenting news to the people. If we do not, we are no better and have no more value than the Facebook gossip that pervades our current society. If we, as readers, allow ourselves to be led by opinion instead of fact, we deserve the chaos that we get.

I am appalled at the gullibility of our society. It is dangerous. People are killing each other. We are hating people who wear masks. We are hating people who don’t wear masks. We are hating each other because of our skin color. We are hating because of heritage. We are hating because of our social habits. We are hating those who are anti-social. If we believe the reporting that we see and the social media traffic, America is a country of hate. And, many of us are doing nothing to contradict that perception. In fact, many people are acting in hate and saying that they are doing it out of love. And, this is true regardless of which “side” you have chosen.

As I have said in the past, we must, absolutely must, educate ourselves and make educated decisions. Listening to a newscast nowadays, in many cases, is tantamount to listening to water cooler gossip.  Yes, I am being oppressively hard on my own chosen profession. Many of my colleagues have had more experience and have achieved higher acclaim than I. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject. But you do not have to be an expert to understand moral and ethical behavior. As journalists, it is not our job to convince our readers of a position during our reporting of the news. Injecting our opinion and preference in the reporting of history is the height of arrogance.  The Constitutional right of free speech is for the people. The duty of the free press is to accurately disseminate facts to the people.

I cannot force our profession to change the way they write or execute news. All I can do is implore you, the reader, to be more vigilant in checking what you hear and see. We, as individuals are going to have diverse and varied opinions on issues. We must value and respect each other and those opinions, even though we may strongly differ. Since we cannot be assured that we are hearing or seeing news without personal or corporate commentary or slant, we must be more diligent in researching, particularly when we hear something that we agree with or that “tickles our ears”. If we will do so, I believe that much of the hatred will turn into productive discussion and hopefully resolution. But that is just my opinion.