The media today: How did we get here?

Fake news is a term that is tossed around a lot in this culture. A few weeks ago I spent 30 minutes explaining to a client with a much higher pay grade than me the difference between a New York Times editorial and a story. Social media should be easy but I have to explain to clients why I won’t use content that appears to be copied or not verified. And since anyone can buy a domain name these days and call themselves a news organization, I have to advise my clients to also scrutinize the media source. Yeah, you don’t have to have any kind of license or experience to call yourself media. I stick to accredited sources when curating content. I really don’t use the word “fake” but it is implied. I thought my strong stances would hurt my reputation but I have found the opposite is true.

I think media is in this place for four key reasons (remember, this is my opinion):

  1. A news organization should never label itself conservative or liberal. I was taught news is objective. I had to interview plenty of people whose views who made me sick while I was a reporter but it was important to tell all sides of the story. I was taught to keep my personal feelings out of it. But now that we have created Fox News and MSNBC, how do we go back? And does anyone want a truly objective media anymore?
  2. The media has not done a good enough job of protecting its turf. I cringe when I see legitimate news sources linking to wannabe sites. I understand it though because newsrooms have been cut dramatically and it’s hard to cover the news without working 18 hours a day. I don’t know the answer but we shouldn’t have gotten to this place. The wannabe sites that are in almost every city in the country now have done more damage to news credibility than some of the sites that spread celebrity death hoaxes and other clickbait content. Come on! How many times can we kill Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman?
  3. The public cannot distinguish fake and real news sites and it seems they don’t care at times. The general public often does not understand that some “news sources” have no professional training, no experience and in some cases, no ethics.
  4. The public is sometimes confused between editorial and news. It’s easy to mock them for not knowing but the media need to do a better job of explaining it sometimes.

Finally, how do we educate a public that sometimes doesn’t care about the truth and quality journalism? For me, I just do it one person at a time.

 

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I still believe in local news

While I no longer make my living in local news, I believe in it. My husband and I travel several times a year and everywhere we go, I check out the local media. I usually lug an armful of newspapers and notes about local television and radio stations. Then I spend a few hours relishing in learning about some of the places we were or passed through like Madisonville, Tennessee. I enjoyed reading about their community and seeing the ad for “Sloans.”

madisonville newspaper

When I read about layoffs in the newsroom at Gannett, I am dismayed.  Who is going to tell people about the county commission’s debate on a tax increase? Who is going to run the picture of the winner of the flower show? How will you learn about road and school closings when the weather is bad? Yes, online platforms like Facebook and Twitter are used but who puts out that information? Many times, it’s local journalists.

Anyone can create a website and post anything these days. My husband and I were getting very upset I while watching Law and Order SVU the other night. A person with no journalistic training was running a website accusing a Congressman of sexual misconduct. He didn’t care about the truth nor did he vet his sources. While it did lead to a real crime, the alleged crimes were never proven and this guy showed he didn’t care about the truth. I won’t print a spoiler but things did not end well in that episode.

You can find a lot of websites like that one across the country. Call me old school, but I believe in getting both sides of the story and fact checking. Even some so-called legitimate media organizations have given into just getting the story out there so they can be first without checking the facts and the validity of their sources. The media used to be respected as the watchdog for the little guy and it has become more about getting clicks and being first. And we wonder why people don’t trust the media and are quick to label all of it “fake news.”

This doesn’t mean I ignore local media and work only on social media and other online platforms. I work with clients from all over the world and I love it. But when I start working with a business or organization, I always ask about their local and state media. I compile a list of the names of editors, news directors, and producers. I still send out traditional press releases, book broadcast interviews, and market online using social media and other tools. I make a lot of phone calls pitching my clients to local media sources, too.

About 80 percent of my work is online. But I still believe that the other 20 percent of my time spent working with local publications and broadcasters is just as important. My hope is that in the future, we will begin to see the value of not only telling our story to a worldwide audience but to our neighbors down the street.