CBS newsman Mike Wallace ended a speech with this quote from Jim Lehrer of MacNeil/Lehrer: “Do not tolerate lousy, arrogant snide journalism. Complain, and don’t watch those news programs, don’t read those newspapers, don’t listen to that program.”
Wallace gave the speech at the announcement of the Goldsmith Prize, for which he won a lifetime achievement award. Journalists increasingly regard their profession with apologies and mistrust. They are not alone. Public confidence in media organizations has seriously dropped throughout the years.
The 1996 Gallup poll of public confidence in major institutions revealed that 36 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in television news. In 1979, 51 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” confidence in newspapers, whereas this year it is at 32 percent.
But, is the media doing its job? Before this question can be answered, two terms must be defined. The first one is media. How do we define media? After Everette E. Dennis’ 1996 Silha Lecture on “How Liberal’ are the Media Anyway? The Continuing Conflict of Professional and Partisanship,” he answered questions and said the media is mistakenly seen as monolithic structure.
The media don’t have a set of common goals. The media should be seen as groups of independent people working separately for different organizations with different agendas. It is hard to generalize and make assumptions for all of them. However, in America it is an everyday occurrence for people to make blanket statements blaming the all-encompassing media for society’s ills.
How many times have you been in discussions and heard comments such as “the media exploit women” or “the media encourage violence”?
Another part of the question that we must define is what exactly the job of the media is. According to the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, the duty of journalists is to serve the truth. The code goes on to say, “We believe the agencies of Mass Communication are the carriers of public discussion and information, acting on their Constitutional mandate and freedom to learn and report the facts.” And under the section on accuracy and objectivity it states that “Good faith with the public is the foundation of all worthy journalism.” Last, it states that adherence to this code is intended to preserve and strengthen the bond of mutual trust and respect between American journalists and the American people. The major principles of journalism are balance, truth and accuracy. The job of every journalist is to strive for these ideals.
As the fourth estate the media have a tremendous responsibility to the American public. A minority of Americans would agree that the media are serving the public’s needs. Americans today are hardened to and cynical about the news produced today. Somebody must be watching these Hard Copy-type shows or there would be no market for it.
In an ideal world journalists would start producing stories that they believed better served the public needs by showcasing the sometimes dull but very important national and international news and trashing the flashy tear-jerkers and blood-and-gore stories. Would there be a market for it? I hope so.
In my idealistic and sometimes simplistic world as a college student, I would like to believe that the American people are smarter than this and really do want to be educated and watch a fairer representation of their world.
It seems like a “what came first the chicken or the egg” argument. Take, for example, television news: Does the new media produce sensational news programs because that is what the public wants? Or does the public watch these programs because it is the only thing that is offered to them? Television stations contend with the sweeps’ period in November and in a panic resort to the most sensational news stories. A perfect example is the local station that did the big story on catching a peeping tom. This and many more ridiculous stories are produced all in the quest for ratings. However, what are ratings but the number of the people watching the show? Television stations are in the business for profits. Ratings are important to television stations because higher ratings mean the stations can charge higher prices for their advertising and thus make more money.
We live in an age of information explosion and the future is about increased media choices. Every day more newspapers go online. In fact, by the end of this year there should be more than 2,000 newspapers online, not to mention the databases and other news services. These resources make information more accessible. We also have more television station options than ever before. While a few years ago we were dependent on the major television networks, we now have many other options in cable stations.
The media consumer (that means me and you) can have a tremendous effect on content, especially with the new technology. Write a letter to the editor or make a phone call or send an e-mail. The news media encourage feedback about their coverage.
Media consumers need to be more assertive when they see something they don’t agree with. They should turn it off, change the station or cancel their subscription and demand higher quality news. Reward and support good journalism when it is out there and complain about trashy journalism, because media responsibility is a two-way street. Whereas journalists have a responsibility to serve and inform the public, the public has the responsibility to demand the best from the journalists.
— Sara Sturm ,senior,College of Liberal Arts