Friday, August 29, 2014

How the Media Was Dumb

I went through a long period of my life where I did not watch the news or read the newspaper.  I was embarrassingly uninformed.  When I started to get interested in the news again, my main source was from the internet.  I would scan my local newspapers and read the articles that were of interest to me.  I can say that I probably had not watched the news for a good 5 years. 

As I began my maternity leave, I started to watch a lot of television.  And finally I was home and awake in the mornings, so I wanted to start my day off with a dose of what is happening in the world.  I tuned into the morning news show that I grew up watching, Good Morning America.  If you asked me in one word to describe that news program today it would be: dogshit.

I tried out every morning news program and they were all the same.  They were chock full of stupid, insipid, candy-ass content and for maybe 30 seconds they'd tell us about some fighting going on in the Middle East.  There was not one ounce of quality news reporting going on in those morning programs.  Watching those shows really got me thinking about the dumbing down of American media.

Then a few weeks ago, I listened to a wonderful program on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show.  The program was titled Judging the Credibility of News in the Digital Age.  It's definitely worth a listen if you have the time.  The takeaway from the program was that we really need to be careful about where we are getting our news from and whether it is accurate reporting.  Because today we can get "news" from anywhere, but we don't necessarily know the value of that news.  Was it fact-checked?  Who are the sources?  Was the story typed out by a unicorn in Westeros?  In the digital age, we can never be sure.

One of the most fascinating statements made on a show was by a journalist who was providing commentary.  She stated that in the last few years her most fact-checked story was a story that she wrote for O Magazine.  Do you get your hard, important news from O Magazine?  The journalist said this was a stark contrast from years prior when journalists had to back-up everything in painful detail.  But, now, in the digital age, we don't always have that luxury.  People can upload a photo to Twitter or Instagram in a second and *BOOM* it goes viral and they have scooped the  newspapers.  But no one fact checks that shit.  No one.

I've been thinking more and more about this in light of the story out of Ferguson, Missouri.  At work, during a criminal jury trial, one of the questions that is always asked of the jurors is: Have you had experiences with the police that make you unable to fairly weigh the testimony of a police officer?  In other words, do you hate the police because of a past experience or love them because of a past experience.  What we are looking for is a neutral juror.  A juror who can hear the testimony of a police officer and judge the credibility without allowing their past experiences to cloud their judgment. 

I would say the media is not a neutral juror when it comes to the police.  I would say the media loves to tell us shocking stories.  And it's more shocking to be stating that "police shoot unarmed man" than it is to say "we don't have all of the facts and are going to reserve judgment at this time." 

I miss those days in the media when we could really rely on what we were reading and seeing.  I miss hearing sweet Peter Jenning's voice tell me about what is going on in the world.  That might be less about the state of the media today and more about how much I loved Peter Jennings.  Ultimately I just miss having good news programs to keep me informed about the world and my community.

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