Many of you love to criticize the media. But what is the media?
Wrong question, actually. It’s not “media is.” It’s “media are.”
Media are plural.
Media, by definition, refers to more than one form of communication.
Back in the day (not so long ago), media had three forms: newspapers, television and radio. We got our news from one or more of those sources.
I worked in the newspaper business for about three decades. I refer to this often in my blog because it’s a big part of who I was, and still am.
Here’s a story I haven’t shared in awhile. I worked for an Upper Peninsula weekly after graduating from college in 1982. The owners/editors were a father/son (the son still owns and runs the paper); the father was a retired University of Michigan journalism professor, where he taught for more than four decades. He never stopped teaching; that job was like a paid internship for me.
A former board member of the ACLU, Mr. Maurer – as a sign of respect, nobody called him by his first name – had liberal views on life, which many journalists do. But he didn’t force his views on this naïve just-starting-out born-again-Christian reporter.
Instead, he drilled this into me: Believe whatever you like. But tell me why. Defend yourself. Think it through.
That’s a lesson I wish all 330 million of us Americans understood. When I got to The Saginaw (Mich.) News in 1985, where I worked for 24 years, I saw that lesson lived out. We sought other viewpoints. We wanted the views of the common man and woman: When the City Council made a decision, how did it affect the people who live there, who are affected by the decision?
We challenged our readers to think about issues, on our news and editorial pages. Did the Council make the right decision? If not, what options do you as a citizen have?
Our news editor was never satisfied, seeking other viewpoints on every story. He drove us nuts, and worse. But we were good. Oh, were we good.
I don’t think we realized how good until the newspaper fell apart in 2009.
We in the newspaper business liked to critique TV newscasters. Our paper printed around lunchtime, and we accused the local TV station of literally reading our stories on air during their noon news.
TV news offers a different perspective. Back in the day, it could report news as it happened – a house fire, for example, showing video of the flames. The newspaper had deadlines hours away, so we had to do more analysis beyond the immediate fire – cost of damage, effects on the residents and the neighborhood, things like that.
And TV producers knew, and know, their audience: lots of weather and sports. Especially weather, if a storm was brewing. That’s what we talk about.
I’ve also enjoyed listening to news radio in the morning. In Saginaw, WSGW-AM 790 was, and still is, a great source of news. Here in the Cleveland area, I sometimes listen to WTAM-AM 1100. Especially when I was a driver for a day program that served adults with developmental disabilities, I’d put on WTAM for at least a half-hour to get the morning’s headlines – news, sports and weather.
Radio also offers something else that proves important to commuters and drivers: a traffic report every 10 minutes. Every so often, those reports affected my morning drive. Crashes, backups, wires down, flooding here and there … whatever affected traffic.
Radio, like TV and newspapers, knows its audience and serves its purpose.
So, what happened?
News gets cloudy
The World Wide Web (remember that term?) happened, followed by social media.
Newspapers, TV and radio have kept their missions throughout the media sea change, for the most part anyway. Newspapers have changed the most, adding digital platforms to basically become 24-hour news operations. The newspapers themselves point to a moment in time, with analyses and columns to try to make sense of the day’s events.
Radio hasn’t changed too much in format. Television is all about ratings, and since we love to talk about politics, that’s what the national news networks report on. With bias.
This is where the “news” gets cloudy. If your politics are conservative, you watch FOX. If your politics are liberal, you watch CNN. You might watch the “opposition” just to complain about it – not to learn anything from it.
Social media exaggerates this trend. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, others – we see only what we want to see.
We block people who don’t agree with our politics. We complain – a lot, multiple times a day, using memes that we don’t even write. We refuse to consider other points of view.
Then, we complain the “media” shares only bad news.
Media are, remember?
We choose our media sources
If you’re listening to or reading only one media source, that’s on you. Media proclaim every viewpoint under the sun, depending on the source.
So, what is “news” anymore? Does anybody seek both sides, or multiple sides? When the national debt skyrockets to heights that paralyze the average American, for example, is there anyone who tries to explain what that means?
I see memes blaming people for not taking coronavirus stay-in-place orders seriously. I also see photographs of empty New York City streets. As a nation, I think we’re doing very well. Traffic is minimal on local roads. People in public wear gloves and/or masks frequently.
Public gatherings are nearly non-existent.
Where do we get our news about the virus? Do we seek more than one source?
Our president either ignores or fires experts – not just medical, but on every issue of consequence – and has done so during his entire presidency. I don’t watch his news conferences. I know the “media” have to, but the true leaders of the virus effort are the nation’s governors, Republican and Democrat.
What was President Trump known for before he became president? “Your fired.” He’s still doing that. Put that on his tombstone.
Oops, I showed my bias in how I consume the news. We all do that, you know.
Our governor has a 2 p.m. news conference every day on https://ohiochannel.org/. I’ve watched a few of those, and they are filled with facts and good information. Our local community college also has a microbiology professor who provides daily updates with graphs and charts, speaking in a homey, down-to-earth manner. He’s great.
Don’t just tell me what you believe. Tell me why.
In your own words. Not with a meme, please. Put some thought into it.
Cover photo: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gives an update Feb. 27 at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland on the state’s preparedness and education efforts to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. (Tony Dejak/The Associated Press)