The media is under attack – and, in a way, it’s our own fault.
There’s a very public, and loud, example of this in the form of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Several times throughout the course of the campaign, Trump has taken on the media – calling journalists “dishonest,” “the scum of the earth,” “most horrible people ever,” while banning publications and reporters who print items he doesn’t agree with and sugar coating an altercation between his campaign manager and a female reporter.
The funny thing is that Trump, who talks about the records he’s broken in this election, has topped out one that isn’t really mentioned: he has received more than $2 billion (yes, that’s billion with a B) in free media coverage, according to data compiled by non-partisan firms mediaQuant and SMG Delta. So, while Trump trash talks the media, he is also getting the lion’s share of television and radio news time, as well as print coverage.
It’s a difficult thing – like any business, television stations, newspapers and all other media outlets must make money to survive. That means providing the news they believe their audience wants to see or read about. The problems start when journalists start selling out their credibility for profits and putting themselves before what they are meant to do and what they know is right.
Trump is a great case in point. CBS Chief Les Moonves spoke in March about the businessman’s campaign, including its decisiveness.
“Sorry, it’s a terrible thing to say, but, bring it on, Donald - keep going,” Moonves said. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
But, this doesn’t just occur on a national level and not just in television. Newspapers can be guilty of the same kind of bias – running stories for one particular candidate or featuring favorable items on one, negative on another. Print media can also make a difference by what it doesn’t print. And, that can be as powerful as what it does.
City and county politics might not exactly light a fire under a lot of readers, but what happens here does matter. Look at the city of Yukon and its current financial issues. Right now, the fallout means the loss of a new city hall, which could have been a big bragging point for the city in furthering economic development. It could devolve into the loss of programs and services for residents, higher rates and more.
It's not a fun job, but it’s the media’s job to talk about those things and let readers know what is really gone, not just rumor. Stories like that are more likely to be found – at least in detail – in a local community paper. When newspapers don’t cover those kinds of things or when they only partially reveal that information they are not fulfilling their purpose.
But, there are also stories – and this has happened in Canadian County – that are not news at all. They are something that papers generate as a conflict to create a news story, something I suppose they hope will sell papers or perhaps gain them some kind of interest. Those stories might be interesting, but they are not news. They are not, as some have said a case of journalists telling “the people the whole story” so they can decide for themselves.
These tactics, like not fully vetting sources, not only shed a negative light on these publications, they can really hurt people. They can make a decision in a political race, they could hurt someone’s career or standing in the community. When they are run, not because they are “good for the county, but they’re damn good for the publication” – a twist on Moonves’ thoughts on a national scale – they put a stain on everyone who is working as a real journalist everywhere.
Let’s face it – there are people who don’t always like our stories. Some people believe if you don’t include every word, no matter how wordy or self-serving it may be, you are biased. I have been blessed with a career going on nine years covering Canadian County and can count on one hand the number of people who have accused me of being biased – but they are out there. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you are a true investigative journalist and going after difficult and sometimes controversial stories, it’s going to happen.
And, that’s OK. Some people – like Donald Trump - have a difficult time taking criticism. No matter where you stand on his politics, it should be obvious that Mr. Trump does not like it when people question him. The problem is that’s what the press is meant to do. We are there to ask the difficult questions, to illuminate both the good and the bad. If not for the press, how much corruption would there be? Even more than there is.
Everyone is entitled to air their opinion. I’m fortunate to be able to write a column; readers can write letters to the editor. Then, there is social media, which is an entirely different bag of tricks. If as journalists, we can’t be responsible and realize that what we are doing is not just a right, it’s an obligation – to get it right, to be fair no matter what our personal feelings, to present news because it’s news and not because it could engender likes on our Facebook page – then we are as bad as Trump and others like him say we are.
I don’t believe that. I look at our papers and see, yes, the controversies and the crime, but also the achievement and the pride of our community. That is the way to keep readers’ attention and loyalty. Hopefully, that’s what we are doing – at least, I believe so.