Sunday, December 9, 2007

Media madness

Way back when, I studied journalism at Ohio State University. In those days one of the many, many rules drilled into our heads was to keep our opinions, beliefs and personal comments out of the story. It was a good rule, but apparently it has been buried under an avalanche of "new" journalism.

I was reminded of this just recently as I watched news reports flowing out of Miami about the death of Washington Redskins defensive star Sean Taylor. Like many people I had an interest in this story because he grew up in Miami, was an amazing player at the University of Miami and because as a pro he was playing for the team I grew up with in Washington. His girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, grew up on Key Biscayne where I now live. Her dad, Rene Garcia, and uncle, actor Andy Garcia, live here as well. It's a small island. Most of us have had our Andy "sightings." In fact, just this week, the driver who took me to the airport for a business trip, had driven Andy to Sean Taylor's funeral the day before. So, in some odd way, the story of Taylor's death was personal.

As I watched some of the coverage on TV, I was appalled to see what journalism has come to -- a sea of sensationalism and speculation. One of the worst was an interview by CNN's Rick Sanchez. A product of Miami's most sensationalistic news operation, Sanchez has taken his brand of journalism to a national network. First, he "interviewed" another CNN reporter on the scene in Miami, discussing his own experiences covering the city's crime. Then in what purported to be an interview with Taylor's friend and fellow player, Clinton Portis, he asked the kind of challenging, antagonistic questions best reserved for the witness stand or maybe 60 Minutes. Portis wasn't once allowed to complete an answer, or at least he wasn't during the few minutes before I switched stations in total disgust. Not that Portis was shy about trying to answer and put Sanchez right back in his place, but this wasn't the time or situation for this kind of reporting.

Often, the worst instances of this kind of "journalism" occur during breaking news, when endless amounts of airtime must be filled whether there's one shred of solid information of not. Anchors interview reporters. Reporters try to grab an expert, who may or may not be on the scene, who may or may not have any actual knowledge about what's really going on, and the next thing you know "facts" are being spewed by people who don't have even one solid piece of credible information.

The reporting in the aftermath of Taylor's tragic murder in his own home wasn't the first time I've had cause to wonder what's happening with today's media. Every single time some TV station does one of its instant polls on a court case or some international incident, I cringe. Viewers aren't in the courtroom. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be reasonably well-informed don't know what evidence was presented in the kind of detail needed to make a judgment about whether a verdict was justified or not. This is just TV giving people a forum to speak out, whether they have one iota of factual information or not.

I've focused on TV here, because not only was this my "beat" when I covered the industry for newspapers in Ohio and Miami, this is also where some of the worst examples seem to take place. Reporters all too often become the story, rather than covering the story. It's little wonder that the public doesn't trust the media and, frankly, we're all worse off because we can't.

If you've seen TV reports that made you cringe or news stories that are more about the reporter's views than the facts of the event they're covering -- and I'm not refering to opinion page pieces, but front page stories -- tell us about them. Maybe if the media begins to understand that their vital role in society is being diminished because the lines between reporting and opinion are blurring, they'll go back to the old rule of journalism -- keeping themselves out of the story and letting the facts speak for themselves.

Sherryl Woods

Labels: , , ,

Add to Technorati Favorites