It’s a sad state of affairs when the news media and its front line of professional reporters are taking constant hits like a punching bag and the news itself must be weighed constantly against amateur arbiter’s opinions across social media. Facts mean little and perception is everything. Where even the once proud news media itself has lost its soul to rumor, innuendo, and its own version of “gotcha politics.” Somewhere Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley are rolling over. In a recent issue of the NY Times, columnist Farhad Manjo, has gone so far as to say he’s giving up on all but the printed word to deliver his news fix. He’d prefer to have his news be delivered a day old, then opinionated, or worse, inaccurate.
What a debacle…but it’s one that was bound to happen under today’s pervasive technology. People are quick to assume speculation and innuendo for facts especially with today’s ability to Tweet whatever impulses we may have, no matter how irrational or self-centered. The Tweet itself is reported and passed along as news in itself. And if we agree or disagree, we simply label the content as fake news and dig in with our self-righteousness. The news value, and therefore credibility, is in the source, not the content. Whatever happened to fact checking before reporting? Just because it is online doesn’t mean it is factual…really? However, it is almost like a feeding frenzy takes over in the media and sensationalism precedes the truth today. What’s perhaps most disturbing is that the news agencies know this, but many, particularly in the broadcast arena where the 24/7 news cycle dominates and dictates, have purposely set aside good journalism for silly showmanship, ratings, and “gotcha” politics of being first on the air.
In our office, we have TV’s tuned to all of the cable news channels all day…but with the sound off and closed captions filling the void. This allows us to notice a potentially impactful story without being verbally accosted. Recently on a road trip, I tried just the opposite. I listened, without visuals…without the faces of the anchors and endless pundits…to the same cable broadcasts on satellite radio for an extended period. I don’t recommend this for those that care about journalism as it once was. Rather than using the extended time of a 24-hour cycle to develop any stories in depth or with clarity, the networks have sunk to an endless fifteen to twenty-minute repetition of the same headline often based on a Tweet, speculation, rumor or sound bite, and usually preceded by a promo prior to a commercial break based on the same rumor or speculation…seldom on verified facts.
Some might say that as a PR professional, I have to take at least some of the blame for turning broadcast journalism into quick sound bites and authoritative pundits crowding our airways. Perhaps, but I’m just old-fashioned enough to know I prefer, and our clients greatly prefer, a story in-full, fleshed out, with details and facts checked. Even in this egalitarian age where everyone can be heard, read, and even seen on the Internet…equal and heard doesn’t always mean correct.