It’s the Media’s Fault! Okay, I Said It

Last night, I tuned in the Book of Daniel – the new TV show that has been causing all the stir. That’s not what this post is about.

Frankly, I didn’t care about the controversy. I was looking for entertainment. I turned it off about half way through and went back to my computer to work a little longer into the night because it failed in the entertainment department. But THAT’s not what this post is about either!

The point?

Why do we get so stirred up by unimportant stuff? I hate to say it, but it’s the media.

Listen, I know of what I’m speaking. I was a newspaper editor for 14 years and worked with the magazine media for the next six years, starting in 1975 with the student paper at Indiana University to my own weekly newspaper in 1978 ending a successful career at the Atlanta Journal & Constitution in 1989.

I defended the noble cause of newspapers and the media every chance I got. I thought journalists were the smartest, most informed and least compromised people on the planet. And that may still be true, but they work in the most compromised business there is.

We rely on the news media to tell us the truth. We’ve assigned them our right to monitor the government and society at large. It’s a great responsibility. And should never be taken lightly.

So, one minute prior to airtime of The Book of Daniel, the general manager of the local television station came on and said basically that this show has caused some controversy and if you think you’ll be offended by it, please don’t watch it.

Okay, that made me want to watch it more.

But the local station then added a distracting news ticker to the bottom the screen (which they almost never do) that highlighted important breaking news. The two main items were:

1. Cauliflower covered the interstate in Cullman, AL, when an 18-wheeler overturned

2. There was a two-alarm fire in Huntsville where and apartment building was involved

About midway through the program, it seemed so important that they broke in for a special report to show a freezing reporter standing in front of a dark building with a few flames coming out the top.

During a commercial, the male anchor in an ever-so-somber tone, bellowed, “In our top story tonight, we have more information on a vicious stabbing.”

This is what my wife and I call The Jerry Springer News approach to the world. Show all the stupid, unimportant stuff you can and ignore the bigger issues.

Journalists, listen up: Just Say NO!

Stop doing inane stories that don’t mean anything. Your responsibility to the public is a gift WITH strings attached. Your responsibility is to report, clarify, investigate and report some more. You have a responsibility to expose the deeper issues that underlie the surface news.

Someone being stabbed – viciously or not – is not news. The impact goes no further than the people involved. The reasons why this happens more and more because of poverty, ignorance, rage, greed – that’s the story.

In 1976, I had the privilege of working for The Louisville Courier Journal in its heyday as a summer intern in the photography department. I was cruising for “feature” pictures one day when I got a call on the radio.

A bad auto accident had happened and I was the closest photographer. As I arrived, the paramedics, police and fire were huddled around the mangled car. I worked my way through the crowd and got to the front of the car. I could clearly see a woman pressed against the windshield, conscious and scared, as she waited patiently to be extracted from the wreckage.

This was a great picture. I would win awards with this. It was a public place and it was news.

As I raised my camera, focusing my telephoto lens on the woman’s face, I made eye contact with her. In a sort of mental telepathy, she was pleading with me not to take the picture showing her in such a compromising position.

Tears streamed down her face. I felt her fear.

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