The [New York] Times They Are A Changin’
I think a lot about the media because I’m a consumer of news. I read, I watch, I listen. I also do this, because as PR professionals, we interact with media daily. It’s our business. Finally, I do this wearing my former-journalist hat, which I still don from time to time. I’m concerned about many things in the media. Where do I begin?
Years ago, media was well-defined. It encompassed print outlets and broadcast stations. Newspapers, held in hand, were read at the breakfast table. Magazines, thick with ads, flourished by subscription and on newsstands. Even in a crowded media market like Los Angeles, I could count almost all the television stations on my 10 fingers. Radio stations were either AM or FM and they played music or reported news. In retrospect, while it felt robust, it was rather limiting.
The expansion into the digital media world was a huge advance, coming with many positive aspects. The news cycle is now 24-7, bringing us up to date, moment-by-moment, which often is critical (yet sometimes is just plain overload). It’s made the world a much smaller place, and I like that. TV stations and programs are too numerous to count, with a multitude of younger networks having been added to the original Big Three (ABC, NBC, CBS). Radio listeners have a plethora of new options via Sirius XM Radio, and that’s not counting all the podcasts. And social media channels, of course, have weighed in, providing everyday versions of what everyday people consider relevant news. Certainly, we have a potpourri of options! So, what’s wrong with that?
The flipside of the digital explosion is vanishing credibility. It’s increasingly difficult to know which news reports are accurate and which are not. It’s hard to tell news and opinion apart. With so many quasi-news sources out there, anyone can post anything anywhere – and it will be believed! While I disagree wholeheartedly with today’s common lament of “fake news,” there are many digital options that ARE delivering fake news. I’m also concerned that even legitimate news organizations have resorted to slanted news, depending on their own viewpoints. We see this most often with political and national news. The slant may be obvious, as on certain cable news stations. And it goes in both directions. Even when I read an article I agree with, I’m disturbed that I can see the slant – some stories read like unmarked opinion (op-ed) pieces.
On the national level, I’m disturbed that at Presidential news conferences, respected news outlets are not allowed to ask questions and are publicly ridiculed, which has not stopped their reporting, just made it more opinionated. A free press is essential in our country, and I’m concerned we are not heading in the right direction.
On the local level, I hate to see the traditional news source, newspapers, still declining, resulting in slim staffs, less experienced reporters and harried editors. It’s true newspapers today usually have digital versions, but it’s usually these same slim staffs doing the reporting, struggling to be relevant with the 24/7 news cycle. Newspapers have folded or been acquired. Editions have merged, sections eliminated. While wholly digital media outlets have emerged to supplement established print outlets, in most cases (but not all), the news here is not properly vetted and so they lack credibility. They can be interesting and even entertaining to read, but certainly can’t be relied on as a main news source.
I raise these concerns simply to share my thoughts and feelings as I consume news daily. I don’t have any answers. But I do have some hopes. I hope we maintain a free press, whether newsprint gets on our fingertips as we consume it, or we sit in front of televisions and cell phones. I hope enough of us care. I hope social media channels accelerate their attempts to regulate bogus pages and posts. I hope local news outlets are sustainable. And I hope you will share your thoughts.