Thursday, January 17, 2013

When I was in high school, I took a broadcast journalism class. Even then I knew of my aversion to cameras but it was the only elective my school offered that had anything to do with journalism.

This was in the day I thought I'd be a world traveling, adventurous journalist...with a back pack containing my camera, recorder and notepad. (In case you are wondering, I haven't altogether given up on the idea. lol)

Obviously, much time has passed since those classes but one lecture still lingers in my mind. We talked about integrity in the media. I remember him telling us that during FDR's presidency, the media had so much respect for him they would not take pictures of him in his wheelchair or holding onto his cane. They understood the nation needed a strong leader and that pictures of him in his wheelchair would compromise that. So they waited for him to get up, for the cane or the chair to be removed...and then they took the pictures.

Similarly, during JFK's presidency, you heard little to nothing about his extra marital affairs. Apparently it was a well known "secret" but reporters didn't write about it. Of course, back then that behavior was more acceptable and we've come a long way since then but my point isn't about the right or wrong of exposing a president's adultery. It's about the media's responsibility and integrity.

I'm disturbed...and more than a little...about the role media plays in our culture today. It seems that scandal is more important than news. Bias more important than truth. Hype more important than integrity.

It seems we know more about what Lindsey Lohan ate for breakfast than we do about the war going on in Syria. Today I heard more about her firing her lawyer and refusing a plea bargain than I did about the hostage situation in Algeria. I wonder how much of a role the media has played in her undoing? It's almost like they've driven her to the edge and then gleefully made a meal of her. A gross image but assuredly a true one.

Another example, the Westboro Baptist Church. I firmly believe that the media created the phenomenon that is WBC and Fred Phelps. During the time after Matthew Shepard's death, Fred Phelps and his crew found out just how much attention they could get from protesting funerals and they've manipulated the system ever since. Even during the shooting in Newtown, CT they did everything they could to get attention. And the media gave it to them. Let's be real. WBC is not a "church" And generally speaking, they have less than 30 people at their "protests" (mostly Phelp's family members). They are bullies. And if you stopped giving them attention, they would be irrelevant.

Speaking of Newtown, today's internet and need for instant communication and "beating the other guy to the story" means that reporters are reporting before they get their facts straight. It's happened before but I don't think ever so blatantly as in this latest tragedy. The number of people killed, the story of the mother being an employee of the school and shot at the school, the story of the father being killed, the incorrect of identification of the shooter (identified as the brother of the actual shooter, his picture was taken from his Facebook profile and plastered all over the television). No one knew what to believe and what not to believe and it took days to straighten it out. Are reporters held to no standard of truth? What is their responsibility in verifying facts before writing a column? I read one column that listed the children killed where the reporter stated they would only give the last name of the victim if they family had spoken. I was incredibly impressed with the respect that reporter showed the families, so the fact that others didn't show the same respect bothered me even more.

I'm just kind of fed up. I'm tired of the bias and misinformation. I'm tired of this news station and that news station bickering like kids in a sand box. I'm tired of not getting information presented in such a way that we can think through and form our own opinions. And I'm tired of knowing there is so much going on in the world but somehow Kim Kardashian and Kanye West rate bigger headlines.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was this week when a reporter from the AJC posted a flippant article about "sugar babies" at GSU. There is a website that apparently partners girls struggling to pay for college with elderly, well to do men. The entire article was flippant, made the comment "talk about Southern hospitality" and quoted a GSU staff as praising the "entrepreneurial" spirit of the girls. Suddenly prostitution is funny? The reporter and the paper was called numerous times, asked to remove the article, change the wording, anything to make this a more accurate portrayal. I was shocked. As many great articles that AJC has published lately about trafficking, the work that is being done in Georgia, etc it was incredibly surprising to see them post something that set the work we do back. And it dawned on me that they were enjoying the attention, the reporter especially. Notoriety and fame are the same thing in our culture. And the media wants it as bad as the reality star. I'm disheartened. If this is the way the media portrays the issue, so many Americans will view it that way.

So...what to do? Besides write a really long blog detailing the issue and griping a bit...what can we do? I think it is time, as a culture, that we hold the media to the guidelines we expect. We hold them responsible for doing their jobs. If WBC is threatening a protest, then we call our news station to ask them not to report on it. If they are biased or misrepresenting facts, we write letters to the general manager and ask that it be corrected. And then, if things don't change, we avoid their publication or show. Media is ruled by the law of consumerism-supply and demand. If you aren't buying, they will sell you something different. I think too many of us have forgotten that we have the power to change things. That our voice and-even more so-our dollars make a difference.

It's time to use them. I think if we do, we'll be surprised at what we learn.

Next on the "fed up" list...politics. Stay tuned.

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