March 7, 2013
There are several words in the English language that you can’t say without expecting to see scandalized faces or multiple eye rolls. Sadly, “journalist” or “journalism” are prominently among them.
Telling people you’re a reporter can exude the same response you would expect if you were to tell someone you’re biggest goal in life is to become an adult entertainment star.
The biases and ratings ploys that litter the news can be more than frustrating. Those in the field acknowledge the fact that journalism today embodies infotainment on far too great a scale; however, good, honest journalism still exists, despite the presence of the mind-numbing haze of superficial news that occupies our morning papers and television screens.
Honestly, who cares if Taylor Swift is dating a member of a soon to be broken-up boy band, or if Brangelina decides to finally tie the knot? It’s their own personal business, business that does not affect public life unless an individual’s well-being is dependent on a celebrity’s love life.
Yet this is the type of information that attracts viewers, which of course means more ratings (cha-ching) corporations who own the news outlets.
The number of times people have claimed to want to enter the field of journalism because they always wanted to be on T.V. is mind boggling. It’s demoralizing to see that people think being a reporter means glamming it up for the camera while reading off of a teleprompter without doing any real work. This doesn’t even qualify as true, hard-nosed reporting. If you want to be on T.V. to show off your looks and winning smile, start doing television ads for Leeds or join the modeling business.
Reporters on television are expected to have some looks—just look at the silver fox, hunk of a journalist Anderson Cooper himself—but such an emphasis on physical appearance shouldn’t have to be so great. You’d think we were evolved enough as a society to not allow looks to influence our judgment. Instead, it seems we’ve adopted a sense of Social Darwinism.
But it’s not just the concentration of artificial news or the emphasis placed on looks that has so many people spitting fire at reporters and media today. It’s the fact that so many news outlets and journalists spin their reports in a way that favors their own opinions or biases.
One of the oldest arguments against modern journalism is the overwhelming liberal bias that exists in media today. Although this argument may have some truth to it, it is important to note that at least one conservative bias exists as well. Just tune into—you guessed it—Fox.
Needless to say, political agendas have their role in biases, but so does the ratings game. Despite being known for his subjective reports, Bill O’Reilly still has his own show on Fox. If a station’s audience is made up mostly of a certain demographic, it’s only natural for them to include reports and hire anchors whose views will coincide with that of their viewers.
Fox, however, isn’t the only party guilty of perpetuating subjective news. MSNBC, their left-sided counterpart, is guilty for its own journalistic misdemeanors. Jon Stewart, media critic and political satirist, criticized MSNBC for modeling the structure of its shows after Fox but with a liberal twist.
CNN even gave former Democratic Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer his own program in 2010, before it ended in 2011. Somehow, this doesn’t sit well with me. As a politician, Spitzer was bound to have his own biases, and as a responsible news station, CNN should have thought twice before letting the program run.
Walter Cronkite, perhaps the nation’s most famous newsman, was America’s most trusted man during his day. In his book, “A Reporter’s Life,” Cronkite addresses the fact that he was presented with the idea to run for president but refused because he knew it would destroy his credibility with viewers. Undeniably, people would assume—and rightfully so—that his entire journalism career was geared toward advancing his political one by gaining the trust of the public.
What irks me the most is that these some reporters nowadays hide under the guise of “political commentators.” I’m all for Freedom of Speech and expressing our opinions, but if news outlets are going to have partisan reporters, they need to balance that out with unbiased and objective reporting.
The media literally runs like a circus. “O’Reilly said this,” “Maddow said that,” “Anderson Cooper is gay,” “Stewart is a liberal junkie.” Honestly, folks, news isn’t a he-said/she-said game. Grow up and do your jobs—the time for taking each other out on the jungle gym for pulling each other’s hair has long passed.
Unfortunately, because of the state of journalism and media today, it seems like this actually is part of their job—ensuring that they bring in ratings and push forward their agendas.
The responsibility of reporters is to be the watchdogs of government and politics—not their actual dogs, or their lackeys. We shouldn’t have to be afraid to ask the tough questions—it’s not our job to ensure that a politician or executive is happy with our line of questioning. It is, however, their job to ensure that they don’t engage in activities that would make them feel uncomfortable or guilty later on.
This brings about the question of neutrality. “Neutral reporting” can be a cop out at time, but objectivity doesn’t have to be neutrality. A good reporter should always advocate and care for the truth, which involves objectivity but also the ability to analyze and determine which side the truth is probably on. Unless spun, facts can speak for themselves.
The nature of the job doesn’t allow for neutrality—you’d have to be a sociopath or a robot to not be affected or have an opinion on all of the cases or interviews you come across.
While reporting during the Bosnian War, during which Muslims were killed as part of an ethnic-cleansing scheme, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour was accused of being pro-Muslim; however she argued that though a reporter is required to give “all sides an equal herring,” a reporter also has to tell the truth even when there is no equality some of the parties involved.
As critical as I am of the state of news today, we shouldn’t take such a fatalistic attitude toward the field. Countless journalists risk their lives or die trying to do their jobs. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 70 journalists were killed with confirmed motives, meaning they died on the job as either “reprisal” for their work, while on a dangerous assignment life “coverage of a street protest,” or were killed in crossfire during a “combat situation.” Thirty-one journalists were killed without confirmed motives, meaning it’s possible that their deaths were work-related and investigation could be ongoing.
The few bad seeds shouldn’t represent the whole. Mainstream media is has too much infotainment packed in with its distribution of news and should be taken with a grain of salt.