Thursday, December 11, 2008

The State of Journalism

Bill O'Reilly. Keith Olbermann. Rachel Maddow. Hannity & Colmes.

Throwing those names out at the start, you may suspect where this is going. A condemnation of the aforementioned and their biased, one-sided reporting. Strong words in their direction demanding that they cease and desist tearing apart the fabric of the truth for their ratings. A harsh and brutal series of insults insisting Edward R. Murrow would be disgusted with what was on the air today. At least one quote along the lines of "how dare you" directed at Mr. Olbermann for ending his program with Murrow's trademark "Good night, and good luck."

But Murrow's rest goes on undisturbed. The problem is not the people reporting the news. It's the people watching it.

The journalists we see on television are not journalists at all. They are pundits, talking heads, dedicated towards pleasing a particular audience. Their reports are geared towards reaching a particular demographic. The stories they twist, the quotes taken out of context, the events they blow out of proportion or ignore completely, they're all done without compromising any kind of integrity. It's understood that these people are not real reporters, not in the purest sense. They're simply there to entertain while discussing current events. Like Jon Stewart, only not as blatant in what they do. The only power they have to be considered real and valid news reporters is the power we give them. Unfortunately, we give them quite a bit.

Somewhere along the line, news stopped being about being unbiased and impartial. People want to hear reporters tell them what to think. We seem to have lost interest in what's going on in the rest of the world. The local interest and human interest story has taken precedent over keeping people informed about current affairs. News agencies stay in business based on their ratings. No ratings, no advertisers, no money, no show. I can't blame them for showing what they do. It comes down to the people who watch - or don't watch - based on how entertained they'll be by what they see. Our news reporting agencies shouldn't be a part of the cycle of bread and circuses, and they would not be. Except for the fact that we demand they be.

The reporting we get is the reporting we want, whether we admit it or not. It's no mistake that we only get bad news. History has proven that's the news that most draws in an audience. People watch news that tells them what to be afraid of. The majority isn't interested in being broadly informed and thinking about information for themselves. They want to be guided. The news is not a tool to tell us how to act. It is there to inform so we can draw our own opinions with a little more insight and information than we would have had previously.

This is one of those situations where change starts at home. The only way to get decent reporting is to demand it in a way networks understand; watch the shows that are actually about the news. Don't sit on the edge of your seat waiting for the next clever thing Keith Olbermann says. Don't eagerly await Bill O'Reilly's next skewed appraisal of events. Sit down and watch a news anchor tell you without offering opinion the events of the world today. Watch the international news CNN is kind enough to provide on most cable providers. Watch for hard-hitting interviews and make it a point to tune in. Watch C-SPAN. Do something to be more than a parrot for a pundit. If you demand it, the networks will be more than happy to oblige, as long as you're watching.

Imagine if the majority of Americans willingly elected to be well-informed about current events and the way their government worked.

Wouldn't THAT be newsworthy?


Jason Heat said...

"the cycle of bread and circuses"

I have never heard that expression before. That's mildly impressive right there.

Adam Z. Winer said...

Bill O'Reilly. Keith Olbermann. Rachel Maddow. Hannity & Colmes.

None of these people are journalists. And they don't pretend to be. They are called political pundits. They can only be seen on the 24-7 cable television. They are the equivalent of the opinion section of a newspaper. They are the equivalent of former sports athletes making predictions about a upcoming game while on SportsCenter.

Few things make me as upset as when people confuse the difference between journalist and political pundit.

Jason Heat said...

And to jump off what Dam said, to say that people shouldn't watch them if they want to is like telling people not to read us - we fill a similar service in a different medium, and with a LOT less hate than some of them, but we're still commentary and analysis.

And I can't WAIT for our msnbc show.

David Pratt said...

Adam, I can't tell if you're agreeing with me or just didn't read anything I wrote.

Jason Heat said...

I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the point Adam was making is that no one ever thought these people were journalists in the first place. Or at least they never claimed to be.

What people perceive is an entirely different issue, and I'm not sure where people outside our area get their news.

David Pratt said...

That's exactly the point I'm making; that's why I couldn't tell if Adam was launching a tirade on what I know is a hot topic for him or just agreeing with me very angrily.

The issue I'm expressly trying to address here is that these people are not journalists and make no claim to be. Yet that doesn't stop people from using them as their sole source of news.

The entire post is a call for more responsibility on the part of the watcher, not the entertainer.

Alex said...

CNN isn't always the greatest for 'hard-hitting interviews.' I had it on the other day and they were interviewing a nine-year-old boy who wrote a book called 'How to Talk to Girls.' ( The questions were along the lines of, 'So do you have a girlfriend now?' and 'Can I be invited to your wedding?' Seriously? I mean, sure, it's cute, but not exactly news.

Stephen said...

This post reminded me of Ben Affleck doing Keith Olberman. Here's a link:

Good night, and good luck.

Max Nova said...

My suggestion, don't watch tv news. Ever. If you want your news quick use the Internet. Wtop and the local tv stations all provide plenty of local content. If you want quality news, read quality newspapers (wapo, nytimes, latimes, guardian) or the economist.

Max Nova said...

To clarify my last post, all local broadcast stations have corresponding websites.

Lexi from Pmac said...

Russia Today and France24 are pretty sweet channels for news too.