Sometimes fires are pretty small and can be put out pretty easily. In other cases, it’s a raging, wild beast that will take multiple firefighters, if not whole departments, to tame. In many cases, it need not have turned into a raging inferno, but it did.
Between fake news, biased news, and no news, the media has come under fire recently like never before. Unfortunately, much of it is deserved. As someone who’s been a practicing journalist for 30 years, here are what I see as some of the big problems today.
* News today is too instantaneous. While it’s possible to get a story “out there” much faster than I would have ever dreamed possible decades ago, today’s breakneck media pace often isn’t a good thing. Ryan Holiday, a media columnist and author of Ego is the Enemy, puts it this way: “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it.”
Let me read that sentence again. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well.” News takes time to gather, check facts, proofread, and have an editor look it over for grammar and context. But in today’s mad rush to fill the numerous news channels and electronic outlets, it’s more like write first, post first, and don’t worry about “that other stuff” (too messy, takes time you know). Besides, who remembers the ramifications of a story that was inaccurate or misleading? The people who were affected by it, that’s who…. But that’s “okay,” in the wild rush for a new scoop, who’s going to take the time to set the story straight, right?
* News today is far too biased. Even the most nonchalant reader has become aware that the majority of today’s media outlets are far too left leaning. This was something some friends of mine pointed out to me 20 years ago, when I was still working as a newspaper reporter. Naturally, I defended my profession and said they were full of hogwash. Today, the problem has only gotten worse, much worse, I dare say.
But it wasn’t always like that. In my day, an editor or J-school professor would not have accepted a story that didn’t have two sides to it. If you were talking to a Democratic candidate and you didn’t get the Republican’s point of view you didn’t have a story. Period. If you were under a really tight deadline, you “might” get away with saying something to the effect that…. “John Smith, Republican candidate for …. office, was not available for comment.” In that way, readers knew that you were at least trying to get a balanced story.
But purposely not seeking anyone else’s opinion was just that in the day, an op-ed piece, and not a news story. A heavily one-sided story would have gotten you a failing grade in a journalism class 30 years ago. I don’t know what they teach today. I shudder to think.
* Today’s journalists aren’t trusted. I’m not sure what the profession can do to get back the respect that used to come with being a reporter. Not that you didn’t louse up a story from time to time! Of course I did! It was embarrassing, humbling, but you said you were sorry, tried to learn from your mistake, and moved on.
And when a source told you something was off the record, you kept it that way because the information you got later on by honoring that request, even though you wanted to use the statement – boy, did you! – ended up being an even better treasure trove of info than the one nugget you wanted to use. The point is, you kept your word, and so while you may have gotten something wrong in a story from time to time, you were TRUSTED.
“In my opinion, the current state of journalism is a dumpster fire,” states Jim Rossi, writer, entrepreneur, and LinkedIn campus editor for UC Berkeley.
What’s being done to dump some water on this blaze? Nowhere near enough, I’m afraid.