Friday, September 25, 2009

My rant on journalism today

I'm a journalist. But I'm not the kind of journalist that goes out and nabs the "tough stories." I write and edit for consumer and business magazines. Very little controversy there. However, as someone who went to journalism school and feels she knows a lot about her profession, I feel I can say this: I hate the news.

My hatred for the news has grown consistently and exponentially over the past several years. Why do I hate it? Because those reporters, those network anchors - they're lazy and they're scared. Nearly every time we watch the news at home, which is more and more infrequently lately, I turn to my husband and say:

"Being objective DOES NOT mean you can't ask tough questions. Come on."

I'm tired of network and cable news channels just replaying snippets of the president, republicans in Congress, whomever, spouting the latest crap and then leaving it at that. What? Where are the follow up questions? Where is the research to prove them wrong or right? Why don't you point out how they're being hypocritical? Doing these things does not make you a biased journalist - it makes you smart. It makes you act like a watchdog for the people, which by the way is your job.

You know who was the best watchdog for the people? Tim Russert. That guy didn't care who sat at his table each Sunday morning, he asked the tough questions. He listened to his guest (democrat or republican) and then proceeded to show them a clip of themselves months earlier saying the exact opposite thing. Did this make him biased? No. He was holding our leaders accountable and he was searching for the truth. And I liked that about him. (I have to admit I haven't watched David Gregory in this role. Maybe he does the job just as well, but I don't know.)

(There's another man who shines in this area, though he doesn't call himself a journalist. Jon Stewart. Sure, he may lean left politically and be a comic by profession, but he's not afraid to throw up clips of the president when he's screwing up or Nancy Pelosi when she stumbles over her words, just as he's not afraid to devote 10 minutes to the grossness that is Glen Beck.)

I think I really started turning off the news when the health care stuff kicked into high gear over the summer. The whole "death panel" conversation had me in a tizzy. To me, it didn't even seem like the reporters had actually read the bill. The American people are not going to read this bill for themselves. It's the responsibility of reporters (both print and TV) to spell it out for us. Tell us the truth, and if the truth comes out in favor of the president, that doesn't mean you're biased. Or vice versa. (This was also around the time Obama's citizenship was being questioned. I was so disappointed that story made it on TV news so many nights that it did. Why is that even a story? He was born in Hawaii. Done. Over. Next.)

Anyway, long rant longer, Eric Black of MinnPost has an awesome column that talks about just this stuff - the responsibility of journalists and how they're failing. He points to an amazing article in the Columbia Journalism Review about how journalism is becoming irrelevant. It is. Either people think all news organizations are biased, or they're like me and just sick of the laziness. The author, Brent Cunningham, says some wonderful things and makes valid points. For example:
Meanwhile, American journalism, too, is in a protracted moment of painful change. Both its business model and its sense of mission are in full retreat. Much experimentation is under way, with different financial-support structures, narrower editorial missions, collaborative projects, etc. There is an urgency, a humility, at news outlets about the need to rethink things that is long overdue.

So the press needs a new mission, and the nation needs someone to help initiate and lead the discussion of what kind of place America will be in the twenty-first century. It is not at all clear that our best news outlets have the will to become true arbiters of our public discourse, but given the increasing inadequacy of the journalistic status quo, and the nature of the challenges facing the country, such a mission shift could offer a crucial way forward for both the press and the public.
If you don't want to read the long Cunningham article, Black does pull some other great snippets in his own column. To all of it, I can only say: Right On. And then hope for a change.


CMS said...

Well said, A! I couldn't agree more.

Maega said...

Yes!! A you said a mouthful there. I have hated the news for so long because it is so filtered. Thank you for this post!

willikat said...

What a rant! Love it.