Over at The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway discusses ways that the national press has lost the trust and confidence of middle America, and suggests ways they can begin gaining it back. Her suggestions and thought process are excellent, and I suggest everyone check it out.
After reading through her piece, I thought I’d make a couple suggestions of my own:
Quit lying to us
I quit watching CBS News, which I had made my primary national news source for my entire life, after Dan Rather reported false stories about George W. Bush’s military service. I had made watching Walter Cronkite a part of my day when I was in kindergarten, so it was quite a habit to break. Since then, none of the national news outlets have impressed me. I find few outright lies, but there is a heck of a lot of selective reporting, verbal shading, and refusal to report anything that hurts the politics of “our side”.
We come to the news for facts so that we can make good decisions. If we can’t trust the information you give us, we’re going to go somewhere else for those facts. Want to know why so many people are taken in by fake news sites, including ones that aren’t meant as satire? It’s because we’ve found we can’t trust the ‘real’ journalists to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you lie to us, only tell half the story, or outright ignore important events, then you will continue to lose us.
Stop devoting a large part of your efforts to entertainment and trash
When I was young, the nightly national news mentioned movies maybe twice a year, and one of them was Oscar Night. Tabloid journalism was only found in disreputable magazines and newspapers, and human interest got between thirty and sixty seconds out of a half-hour program.
Now, I am bombarded with vignettes about the special meaning of the latest blockbuster art house movie, coupled with ‘news’ about the antics of entertainers and their hangers-on. Bonus footage is given to any female with large breasts or an ass that looks like a question mark, or a male with a bit of scruff on his chiseled features and a sardonic smile.
There are literally millions of websites devoted to trash reporting and entertainment news. Quit trying to draw the eyeballs of the disinterested by dragging programming down to that level. If you want to be taken seriously, do serious work.
Overuse of hyperbole and histrionics is not helpful
First, Reagan was sitting up all night, plotting how to subvert our freedoms and start a nuclear war. Next, Bush was working to put us all under the thumb of a New World Order. Clinton was going to send in black helicopters to murder us in our sleep, while George W. Bush was sending an entire generation of men off to create an American empire to enrich his friends. Obama has been the root of all evil for the last eight years, while Donald Trump is either a greedy bumbler who will ruin the republic, a stooge of business and foreign interests, or a mastermind genius manipulator who is looking to set himself for life as God Emperor of the White States of America.
In between that, we have “ICE AGE! NO, ACID RAIN! NO, GLOBAL WARMING! NO, CLIMATE CHANGE!” as well as “ILLEGAL ALIENS! CRACK ZOMBIES! WELFARE QUEENS!” splashed across newspapers, websites, and news broadcasts. Every politician that stands in opposition to a journalist’s politics is worse than Hitler, or a communist, or a socialist, a crypto-fascist, or a secret Muslim.
Meanwhile, I’m shutting off my television and looking for alternate websites to get my news.
Y’all have been shouting at us so much that I’ve lost the ability to hear those frequencies anymore. When you need to shout about something because IT’S ACTUALLY IMPORTANT, I won’t hear you. Learn to use your inside voice.
Draw a bright, hard line between news and editorial work
A lot of the journalists on the national platforms (cable news, major newspapers, websites) have lost the integrity of putting what they know on page 1 and putting what they think about what they know on page 6.
“Senator Backwash, who has not answered questions on when he stopped beating his wife, questioned the Assistant Junior Under Secretary for Corn Sexuality Studies during a long, tense, intrusive series of meaningless questions into the crucial necessity of researching the mating habits of the Lower Missouri River Corn Weasel.” has become a common way for someone to say “Senator Backwash posed several difficult questions to a representative of the Agriculture Department during yearly budget hearings.”
Journalists are, even if they’re not overtly trying to move an agenda, going to be influenced by their own beliefs and prejudices. They’re human, after all. But if a reporter can’t be honest enough to separate their activism from reporting the facts, then they should leave news and go into punditry full time.
If I have to work to separate the facts from the advocacy, you’ve gone a long way to losing me as a consumer. If you lose me as a consumer, you lose me as a possible receptive audience for when I want to hear your advocacy.
Take a good, hard look at the pool of journalists in your organizations and start creating a diversity of opinion
Diversity of race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and belly buttons in or out can add richness to any organization. But when your product is information, you have to add diversity of thought as well, or all you’ll put out is pablum and screed.
If all you have on your staff are rock-ribbed, Kool-Aid drinking conservatives or Ivy League liberal arts majors who can quote from both Das Kapital and The Collected Wisdom of Woodrow Wilson, then your echo chamber is indeed vast and comfortable. When I want to read or watch news and commentary about a controversial topic, I don’t want to hear 90% of the message going one way, with a token whack job from the other side brought along for comic relief. On a panel of five people, two should go one way, two should go the other way, and one should reflect me, who is in the middle trying to figure out the facts and what they mean.
Anyway, these are just my suggestions. Go and check out Mrs. Hemingway’s article, and let me know what you think in comments.