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Let’s have a little chat about the media. You know, the big BAD wolf, as in “The mainstream media” or the “The Media did this…”
I hear it all the time. From strangers. From non-journalist friends. I hear it from my own family. The accusation tree usually branches from the trunk that the media is biased. The media is doing this or that, and it’s wrong because of X. (Usually the bias is against what the person wants to believe, which is a curious theme of victimhood.)
All of this, frankly, exhausts me, because it is lazy and not fully recognizing the media landscape. There is no such thing anymore as a monolith you can point to and say, there is the media. Is a blog the MEDIA? Is a bomb Tweet from a rando the MEDIA? Is the New York Times, TMZ, Facebook, this Open Court platform, your 1,000 text messages, Sirius XM, the high school radio station, the Daily Mail…the MEDIA? What about the Kardashians? The Voice? Top Chef? 60 Minutes?
Media? Reality? Infotainment?
My point is this – everything is media now. It is not one place, one thing, one moment of journalism. Photos, Tweets, Instas, Open Court, pods, the Des Moines Register, and the stuff on TV and radio that isn’t straight up fiction…are filling our minds with content. Some of which are true acts of journalism.
The information machine runs in 5th turbo gear, 24/7.
HOWEVER, hate to break it to you Kardashian fans – they are def fiction.
So why I am a working up to an ink-stained wretch-based rant for today’s Open Court? Because as a media consumer, a trained journalist, somebody who believes in a free press, and lastly, a professor of journalism at a Big Ten school, we need to talk.
Media is far from perfect. There are clear purveyors of rubbernecking, stupid, straight up insane shit out there. A lot of it is the opinion-based media. The talking heads who will not shut up, unless we stop listening. I have friends who will not read the New York Times or watch NBC because they feel it is too liberal or biased for the Democratic party. I have friends who will never turn on Fox News or OAN or read the Detroit News because of their known slant to the right and pro-Trump.
A new wave of “journalists” throw bombs and get buzz as their way to build a brand. They don’t care if you trust them, as long as you know who they are and follow/like. I call it car accident journalism. It’s a crash and boom and a bang, and we all look out of reflex.
I spent the better half of my class on Thursday discussing ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter’s repeated sins. He’s published stolen, private medical records on Twitter about an injured player. (And got sued). He’s invested in a gambling-app business along with an NFL owner. (Conflict of interest). And now, he’s been caught, through an email dump in a legal discovery, to have sent a near-final draft of a story to a source for review, changes, or suggestions. (So BAD.)
Sources never get to see full copy before it runs, because they could influence or damage the final product to their benefit. It’s not done. Period.
Schefter’s actions cross many lines, and I would want him coming more correct if I was his boss at ESPN. He has a big following on social, so apparently his ends justify his means to some. But I am not of that tribe, so you do you, Adam.
We can all tick off a list of bad acts of journalism and the no-fly list of shady journalists. Our society seems more intent on tearing everything down because of the wrong, while ignoring the good. Not having local journalism outlets eliminates the accountability back-check for public officials. Fewer journalists and more opinion monsters leave the truth running in second place.
Strong reporting takes time, effort, and money. You can’t snap your fingers and uncover things. Crafting a news article or report takes skill and discipline. And lastly, the pros of journalism can be sued and held otherwise accountable for bad acts. The jackass sitting in his basement tweeting lies…will hide behind the First Amendment and say he was joking.
Want to see the good? Look:
CBS News highlighted the terrible water conditions in Benton Harbor, Michigan – yes, my home state that also has Flint with unsanitary water – shaming leaders into vowing to change the issue. The ongoing protests, on the doorstep of the President’s residence, by athletes who were sexually assaulted at the University of Michigan, are being seen by the world because journalists are telling the stories.
This past Monday’s Open Court was about the rise of Indigenous athletes in college lacrosse – one of the fastest growing sports for kids. Lacrosse has deep cultural origins, and is way more than a fancy white people in the East vogue activity.
And that is just a tiny smattering of the good things I have seen, heard, and read this week.
Our societal need to tear down power structures, from government to education to media to military is not new. I wasn’t around in the 1960s, but taking on the establishment defined the Baby Boomers. Now younger generations are doing the same, along with some piggybacking from the Boomers, to reshape how we are.
Some of it is needed. But the rest has been weaponized to make us turn against friends, neighbors, and family – by turning them into the hated “other”. Bad information, and clear disinformation, are the bullets we get shot with.
Saying you don’t watch the news, don’t read anything, or don’t use social media is not a bullet-proof vest in this war. It is not some proud declaration of independence. If anything, knowing what is happening out there is the shield to stopping the jokers.
I am done with Schefter because I know who he is. He showed me.
I am good with the CBS Evening News, because they showed me who they are.
So open your eyes. Trust the media who earn your belief. When journalists make mistakes, which we will, hold us to account in a polite way. Let us make it right. I hate mistakes and always want to be right – help me be better.
In the end, I pray the truth will outlive all of us, and be what future generations judge us by.
It won’t be the hot takes, breaking news flashes, or the push notifications.
The need for humans to inform other humans has been here forever. All I am asking is, please don’t shoot the media messenger. Because the media is not one thing. It's now a touch of all of us. We witness history together.
See you Monday.