Opinion | Soft news vs. hard news, the future of journalism lies in what we need
Nicole's Two Cents
I firmly believe that the role the media plays in a democracy is extremely important, concerning educating citizens and at times, even protecting them. One of the first things I learned as a journalism student in my 101 class was that the role of the journalist is unbiased, timely and gives the people what they need, not what they want. I think the American people have been crying, "I want this," "no I want that," "why aren't you covering this," for far too long now. The media has been sucking up to them and dishing it out so their ratings don't drop and shareholders are kept happy. Reading that sentence over again makes me cringe with disdain and complete disbelief that this is what is actually behind the wheel driving media down a very drunken long road. Washington Post and contributor to MSNBC Ezra Klein at his Q&A Wednesday at Miami touched on how the media has changed in recent years towards larger, often soft coverage, solidifying my deeper fears.
When you plan on entering the role as a journalist as a recent graduate, you would like to think that you would uphold the basic principles of a journalist till the day you step out of the newsroom. But what if that isn't what networks and newspapers want anymore? Klein made a great reference to how the media works often by telling students to imagine a schoolyard fight, and those around the circle are the media. They are pointing and telling others, "Hey! There is a fight going on," and antagonizing who ever is in the middle, whether that metaphorically is a politician, a celebrity beef, or a president to keep fighting the other. I couldn't believe how true this was, and how scary that scenario actually is when our media is supposed to inform and educate citizens about our government and the world around us. In reality, the media has become just a bunch of big bullies mixed with teenage gossiping girls.
How do young journalists, eager to enter the reporting or media world, not become like this? Do we even have a choice? These are questions I have been asking my self lately. As opinion writers and columnists, sure, we have a future. We don't have to back up most of what we say because that isn't our job. But what about being a reporter? Most of the media has become storytellers, picking and choosing what they think will get the most views and what will make people buy papers. That isn't serving democracy; it is giving in to a needy nation that wants soft news and not the reality of the world around them.
Though we have the most amounts of news outlets than ever before, with the most amount of information than ever before, does that mean we are getting quality, factual information? I don't think it does. Klein brought up another valid point about how when knowledgeable Republicans who watched and digested news daily were asked if they believed the economy was doing better during Bill Clinton's presidency, they said no the economy was worse. The economy had in fact actually gotten better. There are maybe several reasons why this error occurred in their projection, but is it because there is too much media? Solid reason can be thrown out the door when an incorrect graph on a news network is shown depicting a steady decline in the economy. You don't know if its true, but you believe it because you trust the media. There is so much media that we don't even know what to do with it.
Another problem with this profound increase in media is that there is an equal amount of wrong information as there is correct information. If you want to believe that guns increase violence in the United States, there are hundreds of websites dedicated to that single topic. On the other hand, if you believe guns do not increase violence in our country then again, you can find hundreds of websites devoted to that. Increased media does not eliminate bias; it rather gives people a choice on what they want to believe. That isn't what I signed up for when I decided I wanted to become a journalist. As a journalist it is your job to report fairly and provide what the American people need to know.
Turning back the clock in how Americans digest media and how the media behaves isn't going to happen, and that is a waste of time for anyone to talk about. What isn't a waste of time is getting Americans to realize that the old saying, "you are what you eat," is also true for news, "You are what you watch." Staying on top of the news, researching, and watching multiple networks can eliminate bias and help people become more informed voters and citizens.
As for graduating journalists, only time will tell how our role will play out. As Klein put it quite perfectly, no one wants boring analysts anymore. Somehow, as journalists we have a duty to not just our editors, but to the American people. We have to creatively merge in ways to make hard news viewable news and somehow eliminate the soft news such as investigative reports, celebrity sightings and even food recipes that clog up news networks so often.
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