Those questioning the judgment of what is or is not news raised issues this week on whether or not the emphasis on the current heat wave is really worthwhile of news coverage and/or emphasis.
“Temperatures in the mid-90s. This is not news,” read a post Wednesday on Facebook.
Another asked: “What’s next? Calling cold weather in February news?”
Others in the past week have questioned news coverage of the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of teenager Travon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Posters on discussion boards say the media over-saturated the public with stories on the trial. Some even said the media promoted racial unrest.
Those quick to jump on the media over such issues overlook some interesting facts: The coverage of the current heat wave concentrates on the late arrival of typical summer heat in a Spring and Summer where cool weather previously dominated and the networks that covered the Zimmerman trial reported higher than normal ratings.
Second guessing the media is popular, particularly with the growth of the Internet and the popularity of social networking sites that are often dominated with political debates.
As someone who recently celebrated his 50th year in journalism, I can — and do — agree that we can go overboard in news coverage but also find it amusing that the media has become a popular scapegoat for the ills that America and the world faces.
Depending on the source of complaints, we in the media are too liberal or too conservative, over reactionary or under reactionary, guilty of sensationalism or accused of covering up important stories.
While, as the old saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, it sometimes seems like those of us in the news business can’t please any of the people any of the time.
Back in 1965, Jim Echols, then city editor of The Roanoke Times when I started work there, told me I had six months to “piss off at least half the people in the area.”
“If you don’t,” Echols said. “I’ll fire you and find someone who will.”
As noted here before, the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko loved to quote legendary newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne, who said “it is the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I was lucky enough to know Royko and honored to have his friendship. He was among a handful of newspapermen who taught me a lot when I was a young, headstrong young reporter.
“This is not a popularity contest,” he once told me. “If you want to be popular, find something else to do.”
He was, of course, right. Those of us in the media are often the reporters of bad news and people tend to blame the messenger when they don’t like what they hear, see or read.
But those who are quick to blame the media for the problems we face overlook the sad fact that we don’t create the situations but it is frequently our job to report those problems.
Often, those who claim our news is slanted don’t like what we report because they want news that is slanted towards their own biases and points of view. I’ve found that if a story is slammed by both sides of an issues, the reporter who wrote it did his or her job correctly.
It’s been that way for a long time. In 1976, a common mantra from the Republican Party was that the media, as a whole, was biased towards the left and Democrats. Yet in the Presidential election that year, an overwhelming majority of newspapers endorsed Republican Gerald Ford for re-election over Democrat Jimmy Carter.
So was the bulk of the media really biased towards the left? And, given the outcome of the Presidential election — which Carter won — was such bias — if it actually existed — influential?
The answer to both questions is, of course, a resounding “no.”
Do such facts matter to those with preconceived notions about the media?
Of course not.