Remember the scene from Peter Pan when Tinkerbell was dying and the only thing that could revive her was belief in fairies? Every starry-eyed child cheers and claps because deep in each and every one of his or her hearts is that desire to know the truth — that fairies do exist.
The other day, a friend asked me on Facebook what I considered to be the difference between a reporter and a journalist. I answered politely when what I really wanted to say was that reporters were employed and journalists were slowly fading away like Tinkerbell. And sadly, I’m not feeling much hope for their rapid recovery.
If you ever meet a reporter who claims to be completely non-biased, my advice would be to let out a loud snort of righteous indignation and walk away–quickly. I see this as a lofty ideal to aim for, not an easily attainable credential, akin to claiming enlightenment.
Presenting information in a non-biased format—questioning all involved, fact checking, covering all sides of an issue, taking care to quote accurately, letting facts rather than the bottom line determine what is included—was hammered into me when I studied journalism at the University of North Texas. I don’t see or hear much of that anymore and this appears to be a growing trend in the field of news reporting. The right jewelry and good hair is more important than accuracy and a creative poetic lead means more than getting the information out. Who cares if you have to go to the inside page to even figure out what the damn story is about as long as it sounds good.
One example of this disturbing shift to news-as-entertainment is the oh-so-popular “let’s stop the first poor fools on the street crazy enough to speak with us on camera and ask their opinion on a subject they most likely know nothing about but will still give you their opinion anyway.”
One big question is, why has this become so popular?
To gain viewers? “Hey Mabel, let’s watch channel 5 news tonight and see what dumbass comment the reporter can elicit out of a man-on-the-street segment tonight!” Uhhh, don’t think so.
An effort to present new views on a topic? Considering how many of those thoughts I’ve heard expressed on television that should have ended up on the editor’s floor because it was painfully obvious the subject presented nothing new, at best, that theory is out. (Sigh, and that allusion just gave many of you a pretty accurate idea of how old I am.)
Or maybe because it is quicker, easier and cheaper to shove a microphone at the first person who walks by than to hunt down those people who are truly aware of and knowledgeable about the subject and ask them the significant questions?
But there is one question even bigger for me—why do people seeking the news consider this acceptable? Is it because it is becoming more and more difficult to find journalists to clap for?