Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The journalism we deserve

“The day of the 24-hour news cycle causes one to ponder and wonder ‘what is journalism anymore?’ … At some point in this nation we’re going to have to decide what is journalism – what is real journalism.” -- Judge Belvin Perry, Casey Anthony trial judge.
Judge Perry is right – we, the people, decide what journalism is. Put another way, we get the journalism we deserve.

At this stage of the Age of Entertainment, we’re not doing so great. Based on ratings and readership, we prefer outrageous commentary to thoughtful dialog, sound bites to thoroughly vetted and contextual information.

Don’t blame cable TV, the radio networks, tabloids or gossip magazines – this is all on us. Businesses provide what people consume, and people clearly want to consume this informational equivalent of fried food – it’s tasty, but ultimately bad for us. And we seem not to care.

The solution to the schlock that poses as news these days is simple, but requires a little effort. It can be laid out in two simple steps:

1. Consider the source. This gets us 90 percent of the way there. What is the track record of our information source? Does it espouse and adhere to a published code of ethics or conduct? Does it employ real journalists and make them accountable?

2. Rely on multiple sources, all of which meet the qualifications of No. 1. No single news source is going provide everything you need to be an informed citizen.

Here’s a simple example of how one small piece of information can get twisted beyond all recognition. We recently printed a letter to the editor that quoted a line from an interview with Michelle Obama that has the right-wing Internet and talk shows all frothed up. She said: “Fortunately, we have help from the media. I have to say this: I'm very grateful for the support and kindness that we've gotten.”

Outrageous, right? The smoking-gun evidence that the “mainstream media” is in the bag for the Obamas, right? Until you read the whole quote:

CNN reporter: "How's the family ready for this [the election]? It's going to be quite vicious, isn't it? How do you prepare for that?"

Michelle Obama: "You know, it's … we're ready, you know. Our children, you know, could care less about what we're doing. We work hard to do that. Fortunately, we have help from the media. I have to say this: I'm very grateful for the support and kindness that we've gotten. People have respected their privacy and in that way, I think, you know, no matter what people may feel about my husband's policies or what have you, they care about children and that's been good to see."

Oops.

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