I know I said I would back away from blogging for a time…but these comments by former news director Rick Reynolds are too powerful to ignore. I’ve known Rick for more than twenty years (hard to believe) and have great respect for him. I saw him enter the news director’s office with enthusiasm and passion…and saw also how it wore him down and eventually drove him out of the business entirely. He cared too much and still cares too much. But at least he left before it twisted him into someone I could no longer recognize. (Taken with permission from his facebook page.)
As I watch the coverage of events unfolding in the world today on our traditional American Media outlets and compare it to the raw truth of citizen journalists with their hand held cameras and their instant blogs, tweets and facebook posts I’m reminded of what it was like to leave the news bubble and experience the real world.
I spent 18 years in TV News. I was a video tape editor, a reporter, an assignment editor, a producer, and executive producer and a news director. I learned to be able to watch raw footage of car accidents, murder scenes, and even horrific plane crashes and not have nightmares. I developed a dark sense of humor to get through and detached myself enough from my own hummanity to put a microphone in the face of a grieving parent and ask them how they felt.
I learned through experiene the power of fear to build ratings and keep people tuned in. If I told you, you might die tomorrow, you might watch the rest of my newscast. I had noble intent. I set out to inform a public, expose the problems so we could create a better world. I believed in giving voice to those who had no representation and challenging authority by questioning those in power. I believed in not only showing what was wrong with the world but what was right, what was working, reporting on solutions as well as problems.
There was something very noble about this work and in order to keep doing the job as salaries fell I inspired my staff with a sense that we were using the power of media for good. But through the years things started to really change. As I moved into management I became more and more aware of the need for our newscast to turn a profit. The cost of covering a story became more and more of a factor in what we aired. We no longer sent reporters beyond a certain distance, our satelite truck sat in disrepair for months because the money to fix it would have come from laying more people off.
The conservative owners of the last station I work for let all the news directors know that they wanted the Republicans to win. Republican control of the country was essential for growing their business and as a result we were ordered to air interviews with Republican leaders and air a conservative commentary.
My boss hated the directive and allowed me to put the interviews and the commentary in our least watched programs or only air what was newsworthy during our higher rated shows.
More and more the sales department would stop by the newsroom concerned about our potential coverage of issues that would impact advertisers. It’s common knowledge in every local market newsroom that you don’t do negative stories on auto dealerships. They are the largest of local advertisers and losing their business is suicide for a local television station.
I left TV news in 2001. I can only assume that the trend toward more sales influence in news, the erosion of the hard line between the two departments has continued. From the coverage I see these days and the influence of pharmacutical companies on newscasts I can only guess that this is now happening at a network level.
There always existed something we called “Newsroom bias” that we knew had us seeing the outside world with a warped vision. The problem with Newsroom bias is that you know it is there but you can’t see it. My friends in TV news can’t see their own bias. When one network reports a bunch of aimless college kids are running around not really sure of what it is they are protesting the other reporters start to see the same thing. First they just write off the gathering all together and ignore it for weeks, then because they didn’t feel it as newsworthy to begin with they begin to deride and discount the gathering in the coverage.
Meanwhile foreign news outlets that are government controlled begin covering the protests through their own bias. Tune into Russia Today and you’ll learn about the new American Revolution and the distablization of a US Government that has lost it’s moral authority to govern by what’s been exposed in these protests. It’s a different bias and not exaclty the truth. Fox tells you the groups are anarchists and one conservative commentator says they are neo nazis pushing for totalitairanism. Again they’re missing the truth.
If you listen to the protestors themselves and start to read the reports of citizen journalists and see the often live cell phone camera coverage of what’s happening there the various bias becomes very evident.
In the middle east much of the media has been controlled by the governments and for decades this kept people from taking to the streets to demand justice. They didn’t know things could be any different. Then along came the internet and social media and a generation of young people began to wake up to the possiblity of how their life could be.
In this country the media either intentionally or through newsroom bias is under the influence of corporate money and power. With the rise of the internet and social media a generation is seeing how their lives could be much different. These people are speaking out.
I urge my friends who stayed behind working in corporate media and living in this newsroom bias bubble to take some time off. Go out into the real world. Talk to more people who are not in the business. Read some of the posts, view some of the citizen journalist coverage. No these are not the traditional sources you’ve been trained to view as reliable but if you start to investigate with that curiosity that got you into the business you may discover some truth that you’ve been missing.
I remember two years after being in TV news I went out with friends for the first time to raft down the American River. For two years the only time I had ever been to the river was to cover a drowning and watch body after body pulled from the water. I honestly thought we were crazy for going in the water. In my mind it was among the deadliest places in Sacramento. But that was because I had only been there to see it at its worst. I had never done a story on the fun of rafting down the river and the thousands of people who safely experience the river every day.
Covering news can warp your perceptions of the world. I must tell you all, that the world is a much better place than you likely suspect it to be. You’d be surprised how much safer the world feels when you stop having to know about every homocide, shooting or child molestation within 100 miles. Every day people are unbeleivable kind and loving to each other in this world. It’s not news so you’l have to get out of the business for a few minutes to experiene it.
Not all protests are angry mobs. It’s possible for some protestors to be angry at corruption and Wall Street and at the same time love Steve Jobs, use Facebook, and be proud to be an American. Watch the live citizen journalists and you’ll see more celebration, joy and happiness than raw anger. The protestors in New York and elsewhere are showing by example what sort of world they would like to create. Take the time to explore it for yourself. Don’t trust the work of now under paid over worked on deadline journalists whose paychecks come from corporate giants. They’re only seeing a portion of the story through their own bias.
October 16, 2011