I’ve been a morning news hound most of my life. New information and several cups of black coffee usually kickstart my days. Guess that extra time is a retirement benefit. Gotten so I don’t fully trust any one portion of the media now so I scan about a dozen sources, cross-checking for accuracy. That’s a handy thing to do - especially in the last few years.
Several reasons, I believe. First, newspapers are disappearing. And not just in small towns. Some gone forever. For others, new electronic versions replacing them. While usually more flashy and formatted for easier reading, they’re not as “newsy” as their print forebearers. Stories are fewer and shorter. “Consultants” - bastards of the media business - have ordered “shorter, peppier, crisper, lighter.” Nothing about more accurate.
Second reason I check more sources is for facts. Like a lot of things these days, that accuracy “ain’t what it used to be.” Sometimes the “facts” are wrong. Sometimes writing is so filled with spelling, grammatical and informational errors you have to read several times to figure out what the facts are. Here are a few examples just this morning. Somewhat unimportant, I grant, but they make a point.
Huffington Post promoting a feature story with a picture showing actors Don Knotts and Myron McCormick. The cutline was about life in “Mayberry” promoting reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Problem is the picture was from a 1958 movie entitled “No Time For Sergeants.” McCormick never appeared on the Griffith show. Small thing? Yes.
HuffPo again. Headline about the latest cop killing in Chicago and how the damning video of the murder came to light. International headline read “Blowing the Whitsle.” Another small thing? Yes. But around the world.
More and more, I’m seeing headlines like these: “Car loses control” or “Driver killed after crash.” Cars don’t “control” or “lose control;” The driver - if you read the story - was killed instantly when the car hit that tree.
Story in our local weekly this morning about the end of a long highway construction project that’s been a headache. The line: “Roadway improvement project is new completion.” Small? Yes, again.
Or how about this? Last week, national media was headlining the shooting down of a Russian jet over Turkey. In nearly all coverage, the reference - headline and body copy - has been about the two “pilots.” Over and over again. Problem? No jet fighter has two “pilots. Just one. The other is a crewman - usually a weapons officer who’s NOT a pilot.
Most of these examples are small, I grant. But, if you can find so many in so many places, it’s reasonable to become suspicious of reporting on more significant events. And this doesn’t even speak to the constant wrong reporting of events in a true “breaking” story because all sources want to be “first” rather than “accurate.” But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Here’s a personal third thought about so much misreporting. I’ve long maintained the way to truly corrupt a good reporter is to insist on attendance at a journalism school. “J” schools have long been an unreliable training ground for reporters. Might make a resume look good but that’s all. Give me a bright, strong liberal arts or history major with an outsized sense of curiosity. If they want to know how things work, why things work, what really happened and what it means, I’ll teach ‘em to spell and write. Just keep following that curiosity and the rest of us will do the backup.
We’ve never lived in a time when more information has been so easily available. Problem is, we’re not being informed of what we need to know. Few newspapers regularly report on - or staff - city hall, courthouse or the school board. Broadcasters only go when there’s likely to be controversy. Or “visuals.” Yet most government news truly affecting us comes out of city halls, courthouses and statehouses. When TV “reporters” do go, they usually come late, grab someone near the door and ask what’s been going on and how that person feels about it. That’s not news.
Newspaper and broadcast chains are gobbling up local news outlets. New management often has no local ties or background. Fender-benders, personal hygiene tips, care of the family dog, what’s new in Hollywood and how to more effectively deal with a bad complexion make up the content of too many local broadcasts. About once a month, I try to watch one. Haven’t gotten past five minutes in years.
I’ve spent most of this adult life in and around media and I’d like to ask you a question and issue a warning. The question: why does the national media staff Trump daily speaking appearances for cut-ins if he should say anything controversial? Or exceedingly stupid? They all do it. But what about Sanders or Kasich or Clinton or Bush? Any of them regularly staffed for “breaking news? Is CNN or Fox ready to pounce there, too? No way.
And the warning: be careful what you accept as fact. You may hear something you want to hear - something that affirms what you already think. But is it fact? Right or left? Is it true? Have you checked any other source for the same “facts?” I do. Every day. Old habit. And, every day, I find “facts” at odds with truth or what really happened. Or what was really said.
In too many instances, accountability and responsibility for accurate reporting has been lost. We now read, watch and listen at our peril.