Blurred lines put media front and center in blame game
By Peter Weinberger
Blaming the media for society’s problems is a time-honored tradition reserved for people who are usually in trouble, cannot take the heat of their own actions or simply are angry about an issue. Whether a politician, sports athlete or even a movie star, it’s common to point fingers at an easy public target. In other words, when all else fails, shoot the messenger.
The media has become an easy target because public opinion of journalists is at an all-time low. So it’s not surprising that on careercast.com, newspaper reporter was ranked 199 out of the top 200 best (or worst) jobs to have. Only lumberjack was lower. Photojournalist did not fare much better, coming in at 186.
When asked the question “Do you trust journalists?” respondents in most surveys answered “yes” only 20-30 percent of the time. And that number is only getting smaller.
So what’s happening here? The standards for accurate reporting have been eroded. Opinion gets mixed up with reporting. Social media gets mixed up with news media, with websites like Twitter or Facebook becoming a key information source for millions of people. Anyone can be a journalist, publisher, blogger or somewhere in between. Accuracy has become an option rather than an important necessity.
In a rush to publish information as quickly as possible, fact-checking gets sloppy or forgotten. Or there’s simply no desire to get the other side of the story. The Rolling Stone’s report on rape at the University of Virginia is a recent example where vetting the subject’s story would have yielded a far different result, if a story at all. Because of these factors, the media is simply an easy target. In some cases it is deserved. But the majority of time, it is not.
The liberal media is often blamed by conservatives for their woes, yet even President Obama took a swipe about how negative economic news on television causes Americans to feel overly anxious. After announcing there would not be any indictment of police officer Darren Wilson, highly-criticized prosecutor Bob McCulloch railed against the media (mostly social media) for hampering the investigation.
“The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything, to talk about,” he said. In this case, it was the messenger trying to shoot another messenger.
Sony gets hacked and cancels their movie The Interview. Time to blame the media. Even Aaron Sorkin, the main writer for HBO’s The Newsroom, described news outlets reporting on the incident as “morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.” Hollywood seemed to be in agreement.
I find this quite odd coming from a person who based an entire TV series on the nuances of reporting news.
In all these cases, opinion was clearly mixed with unbiased reporting, thus causing more negative opinions, instead of focusing on the facts of the story.
That is precisely why the COURIER elected to minimize our opinion columns during our years-long coverage of the city’s fight with Golden State Water (GSW). It wasn’t until our official endorsement a few weeks before the Measure W vote that we took a public opinion. Even GSW must admit they had every opportunity to voice opinions in the pages of the COURIER.
Because there was a clear line between reporting and opinion, our news stories carried more credibility. Yes there was finger pointing, but not at the messenger. And that’s the way it should be.
As we look to the future, the lines between accurate reporting, biased reporting and opinion will only get more blurred, especially with social media becoming a more common source for news and information.
For 2015, the COURIER will continue to reach out to readers in new and exciting ways. We will also stay committed to reporting facts in a timely, clear and objective fashion.