“The bubble-headed bleach blonde comes on at 5…

What does it mean to be a news reporter these days? At the risk of sounding hopelessly old-fashioned, I think the fourth estate really may be losing its way. I know what you’re thinking: people have forever despaired over journalism practices as town criers made way for broadsheets, newspapers for on-air broadcasts, and now for wikipedia, podcasts and blogs.
No matter the medium, though, many of my concerns over news reporting are the same as they’ve always been. I believe that the number one rule is to leave yourself the hell out of the story. (see Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly.) Unless you are a central figure, you have no business placing yourself in it. When I was a TV news reporter, I sometimes appeared in the story in a stand-up to sum up or make a point for which there were no visuals. But I never would have said what I’ve been hearing lately: “I reached out to the Governor’s office, but they didn’t call me back,” or “I’m the only reporter who got the interview.” Don’t care. And why do news anchors feel they have to make inane comments following a story, such as “Gee, that’s so sad,” or “Wow, that’s really scary.” For God’s sake, thank the reporter if you must, but I don’t want your opinion!
But this is nitpicking, isn’t it? What’s really got me thinking today is the 24-hour news cycle phenomenon and what that has come to mean. When your programming appetite is never satisfied, you’ll put anything down your throat. Or more accurately, down our throats.
So it all comes down to the question of what’s news and what’s commentary? There’s Rush and Rachel and Keith and Sean. There’s the Daily Show and CNN and the entire Fox News operation. Or Slate or the Skimm or Huffington Post and whatever right-wing so-called news feeds there are on the internet. Today I heard Rachel Maddow skewer O’Reilly and Fox for supposedly threatening reporters who called old Bill out for exaggerating his role in covering the Falklands War and the murder of nuns in El Salvador. But whether or not I agree with her, I’m not sure I really see her as the reporter she purports herself to be. She’s a commentator, as are John Stewart and O’Reilly and Limbaugh. They can be brilliant of course. They can make us think and they can make us laugh. But when I want the facts — the reality — I don’t go to them. I go to NPR or the New York Times, and even sometimes the network news (gasp.) Why? Because to this aging news reporter, those institutions are still held to a high standard of accuracy (Brian Williams notwithstanding. See? He got in the way of the story he was reporting.) When they screw up, they print retractions and publicly apologize and try to make it right. Too many people are watching and don’t hesitate to call them out. I find that of some comfort. There’s an awful lot of anonymity on the internet. You can say anything, whether it’s true or not. And if you’re only watching MSNBC or Fox, you are not getting just the facts.
Tell me, who do you trust when you need to know what’s real?

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3 thoughts on ““The bubble-headed bleach blonde comes on at 5…

  1. lisagroening says:

    Sandy, I don’t think it’s very different from the olden times. If you have any educated thoughts at all then you know you have to look to numerous sources to glean the story, and even then so much of what is made available to us as public citizens is a loaf of hooey. Remember the placard that Steve Mueller had in the control room? “Mistakes leave here at the speed of light.” I was shocked when I first read that but I learned that it was too true. I am grateful for my time at K2 if not for the excellent people than for some crucial lessons in critical thinking. I hope the schools are teaching kids how to think critically.

    I love your blogs, btw. Very thoughtful and well stated. Plus I love Rachel and want her haircut. But if I want to get something close to news I go to public radio, public TV, Salon, Slate, and yes, CNN, and even then with a couple grains of salt.

    Like

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