INTRODUCTION BY GARRY ARMSTRONG:
I remember discussions about news coverage more than 50 years ago. My college radio colleagues and I thought the mainstream media outlets were sellouts, ignoring the real stories and covering their collective butts with government propaganda. Some of us vowed to seek employment with the CBC, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where we would have a greater chance to tell the truth.
Luck intervened and I landed a job with ABC Network News as a 20 something. ABC, coincidentally, was revamping its national and international news format. They wanted new blood. We were encouraged to be fresh and innovative. Newbie newsies like me leapfrogged over veterans from the advent of radio and TV news.
The late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were the new “golden era” for broadcast news. We had access to newsmakers in the highest places. We were emboldened to take chances even when threatened by power brokers. I always worked in the moment, never fearing the consequences of political windmills I might tilt.
It was a Camelot period for those of us who sought to report the truth. Then everything began to change.
Fast forward ahead to today and the proliferation of 24 hour cable news and social media. Camelot is dead. News — local and network — is controlled by corporate entertainment divisions.
Newbie newsies today don’t have the support or access I did half a century ago, but they still have a bully pulpit and should use it — if they have the courage and conviction to try to create change.
AND NOW, THE NEWS …
My husband was a news guy for more than 40 years. For 32 of those years, he was a reporter. You could watch him on television pretty much every day.
He covered breaking news. Murder, fires, disasters. Blizzards, hurricanes, politics. Riots. Court cases. Wherever something was happening, there he was. I knew the news from both sides. How it was made, how come some stories got on the air and others did not. What made a story “hot” and why. I have no illusions about the accuracy of media, but I also know how hard reporters work. How little the public appreciates the enormous amount of work that goes into one of those little reports you see every night.
Reporters don’t usually get to choose what to report. They can enterprise projects. Maybe get to do something they think is worthwhile. A reporter can request to be put on a particular story.
In the end, reporters are employees. They have bosses. They go where they are sent. If they don’t follow orders, they won’t be working long.
Like every other profession. Unless you own the company, you do your job. It’s not like the movies. Once upon a time reporters had more freedom to investigate, but not in recent decades.
Today, news is entertainment. It wasn’t always. Back in “the day,” it was public service. Maybe someday, it will be again. For now, though, the news has to make money. For television station owners, corporate and local owners. Sponsors. Advertisers.
Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone. You all knew this, right?
This is not to say that reporters don’t work their butts off to do the best job they can. Some don’t, but most do. It’s a rough world. Highly competitive, long hours. Much of the time spent racing the clock through rain, wind, sleet, and bad traffic. Seeing the worst stuff imaginable. Murder, mayhem, and human misery is the bread and butter of news.
Living with a reporter has not made me less skeptical of media than the average citizen. I know how little and how much I can trust what I see and hear. “Incompetent” media is that way because news directors think that’s what you want. If you want it, you will watch it . It will have high ratings which will sell advertising minutes. It’s all about the bottom line. News is a business. Big business. Not a holy cause.
We expect a lot from reporters. We expect them to be better than us. To be fairer. To search for the truth on our behalf. We hold them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves because …
Well, because …
Reporters are people, some better than others. We are all responsible for seeking truth. If you believe in God, then you believe He gave us free will to figure out stuff. To not believe the snake.
If you don’t believe in God, then you still believe in free will … and that we should not believe the snake oil salesmen.
Nobody could get away with making stuff up, and presenting it as truth (and news) if we were not eager to believe it.
In the end, we will only get accountability and accuracy from media if we demand it. As long as corporate owners believe their audience wants rumor, innuendo, and outright lies … and will believe anything without corroboration or concern for truth? That’s exactly what they provide.