Introduction – 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 … ALREADY IN PROGRESS
Garry was a news guy for more than 40 years. For most 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.
Reporters mostly don’t choose what they report. They can enterprise projects and sometimes get the green light to do something they believe in. And of course, a reporter can request to be put on a particular story. Sometimes they get a yes, sometimes no. Reporters are employees. They have bosses. The news directors and their directors. Not to mention the people who own the corporation and the sponsors who pay the bills.
Way back in the 1970s, news became entertainment. Before that, it was public service. Maybe it will be again, someday, but for now, news has to make money and get ratings. Therefore, the news will be full of whatever stories news outlets think we want. Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone. You all knew this, right?
That’s how we have wound up with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. He was entertaining. He brought in viewers and ratings. We watched. Love him or hate him, we tuned in to see him. Now, we stand in imminent danger of seeing a lot more of the Trump than most of us imagined in our darkest nightmares. You get what you pay for.
We expect a lot from news and those who report it. We expect honesty. Stories based on truth. Facts. We hold the news to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. How’s that working out for you? Not so good?
We are all responsible for seeking truth. We don’t have to believe lies. Nobody would get away with making stuff up and presenting it as truth — or news — if we were not predisposed to embrace it. We will get accountability and accuracy from media only when we demand it.
As a final note of irony, apparently the Brits are now — just a wee bit late — Googling “European Union” to discover what they actually voted to dissolve. That’s what happens when you believe what they tell you because it’s what you want to hear.