Problems with Journalism

Posted Nov 21, 2005
Last Updated Nov 9, 2011

Since there were events to record for posterity there have been journalists. Ancient journalists wouldn’t get much credit from their resume in today’s world, since it is obvious from ancient records that historic accounts of events by "chroniclers” were written with express intent of glorifying a king or lord. Today’s journalist says he abhors such bias, and the modern journalism schools teach students to be totally unbiased.

Or so we are led to believe.

I never did go to journalism classes after high school, so my perspective is a little bit rough around the edges. But I have been an active journalist in newspapers, magazines and web projects for almost a decade now… and I have come to terms with the reality of modern journalism—that it isn’t all that different from the ancient forms despite the formulated propaganda of mainstream media outlets to convince us otherwise.

In my own experience, I was once chastised by an editor because there was a conflict of interest in some of my work—I was being paid by a client township to produce newsletters at the same time I was covering that township for news media. There was validity to the claim, and I forced myself to make a decision as to whether I would be a journalist or a publicist for that township.

The next week the same editorial staff assigned me to a feature story on a business in Central Ohio. I was cautioned: "Make sure you do an especially good job on this story—these guys are one of our bigger advertisers.”

Ever since that day my opinion towards journalism has been in conflict. There are days when I am sickened by the business behind journalism; there are other days I see it as a simple fact of life. Nevertheless… there is no day that I see journalism as a straightforward business of collecting truths and sharing them in an unbiased format of pure information. Every single thing you read in a newspaper has some angle to it that urges one view or another.

Some journalistic pieces are more subtly biased than others. Such pieces may include no opinion from the writer… but simply applying four favorable quotes to two unfavorable quotes is, in itself, an endorsement of an idea, project or program.

Other forms of journalism take the high and mighty road of self-righteousness. CNN recently added Nancy Grace to the nightly line-up, and her advertisements are simultaneously presenting her as a mad lawyer and an objective journalist. The advertising campaign must be doing something if her popularity goes up… but the apparent paradox seems to miss the point to most people.

Other forms of journalism resort to simple human emotions to back up the angle of the stories they present, demonstrating the political views of that particular news organization. CNN and Fox News are both examples of mainstream media that commonly interject political ideals into stories both directly (with anchors making editorial comments) or indirectly (by covering almost exclusively the stories their constituents want to hear). Fox News especially is notorious for anchors making opinionated comments catering to right wing listeners in nearly every report. CNN is catching up with that trait every year on the left wing.

Mainstream media is becoming more openly similar to mainstream entertainment outlets very quickly. Television news programs increasingly modify their presentation to be more appealing to constituent groups—CNN tries to capitalize on younger viewers by promoting words like "sexy”. (CNN once promoted journalist Paula Zahn as "sexy”, for which she was rightly angered—such promotions are grossly un-journalistic.)

The issue at the very bottom is the very nature of journalism in relation to human society. I don’t really think it will change on any large scale anytime in the next several thousand years because it has remained the same for the last few thousand years—those who fund journalists are those whose opinions get stressed. You cannot avoid it; because media is expensive, and no one can keep it going without advertisers. Advertisers are here to make impressions on people that influence where buyers spend money; the moment you start offending your advertisers is the same moment you start looking for a new career.

It’s not that I necessarily believe it should be any other way. But I do find it ironic that our government was formed with protection for a free press because it would help counteract the propaganda of politicians; the press has simply become the propaganda of businesses. I don’t know if one is worse than the other. But really… the average citizen ought to be smart enough to know this fact of the media so that he can effectively filter out all the extras and get, if anything, an idea of what is actually going on in the world.

Media Studies

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