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Friday, December 21, 2012

In Defense of the Big, Bad Media

I want to take a tiny, inconsequential sliver of the gruesome tragedy in Connecticut and apply it to the broader hatred and ranting I'm seeing pop up everywhere...against the media. And it's not like this is new. Everyone hates the media, it's cool. I hate it, too, promise. For some reason, though, I'm seeing a lot of backlash against the workers of news themselves. And, honestly, they don't want to be there. But what are they going to do? Quit? They need to eat, too, and 20 years ago, they thought journalism would be a cool thing to do, yo. Or they're kids and they just decided it would be cool, like, last year. But either way, they don't want to be there.

Now, I have been fighting for fewer words and less coverage since the event itself, but we need to get to the root of the coverage problem.

I'm just going to list some things out here:

1) The media is not profiting off this tragedy.

To help you understand this, I first want to break down the hierarchy of news money makers. The local affiliates get nothing. I mean, seriously, people, the local newsrooms don't even make enough money to hire a decent staff. I'm sure you don't keep up on journalism postings, but given my background, I do. I just saw a job at a CT local, considered a medium to large market, for a reporter who can shoot and edit her own packages, produce and run cut-ins, and update the website.

That's five jobs. That's FIVE jobs. And this particular station had just laid off ten people. They're hiring two people to replace those ten.

And the people on the street? The glamorous reporters, the cool producers in the booth, the chic photogs behind the camera? They make nothing. They're not pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars (well, some are, but even in national news, that's a lot more rare than you would think.) These people are just doing their jobs, for probably $10 an hour, maybe $20, and you know what? If they don't do their jobs? If someone else does their job better than them (like, say, Facebook and Twitter or the other stations?) then their station lays ten more people off.

It's not about making money. It's about feeding families. Just like when you go to your job.

2) The media is not its own thing.

Let's move on from the little guys, though. If anyone is profiting off this,  it's corporations. GE, Meredith, and the like. You think that's a joke on 30 Rock? It's not. The next time you want to ram into some news organization, look one rung up. They're all run by huge companies now, many of which have nothing to do with news.

We're blaming the wrong guys. I mean, it's really easy to blame the 24-hour network idiots you actually see camping out in Newtown, attending private child funerals. Who doesn't hate those guys? But this is not the investigative piece of the story. These reporters are not there of their own volition. Their corporate bosses are telling their bosses are telling their bosses are telling them to do something that makes their skin crawl, that makes everyone's skin crawl.

Media really isn't it's own thing. And this is the problem we have all over the country that we're keenly aware of in other businesses, but somehow we forget when it comes to media...that they're also just another penny in the pocket of multi-million-dollar corporations.

Now, in order for these corporations to get paid, they will have to keep their ratings high all the way until February. Because advertisers look at TV in February, in May and in November. These are called sweeps. What they could possibly do is go to the advertisers in question and show them the numbers from this month, but, honestly, it's not going to matter all that much.

I don't know, I could be wrong about all this. I'm only talking from the view point of someone who once produced news shows.

3) The media has a job to do.

So, why do they do it? Why are they there?

Well, because it's a job, really. It's their job.

For some in news, it's a noble drive. They truly believe that through coverage of such events they can evoke public outcry, public thought, political change. Perhaps the angle they take on a story will prompt letters to congresspeople, will prompt votes for or against gun control, accessibility to mental health care, or any other of the myriad of political agendas people have glommed onto. Because the public is no better than the news. The public is just as blowhard-y, just as loud, just as full of hot air in the face of tragedy. All that meme sharing, all those viral blog posts. The public is hungry for this story. And maybe with enough information, they can actually create change for the better.

There are, of course, those out for the glory. For the show reel. For the 'career-maker.' And even those not in it for that can get carried away, can forget, can distance themselves, purposefully or not, from the story. Because to deal in that environment takes a lot of nerve, in the best and worst sense of the word. So, yes, the shots of the millions of cameras, the bragging about the media descending upon Newtown--gross. I agree.

It's a sickly competition, isn't it? But what can one do?

We certainly can't change it by crying outrage and bringing more attention to the business. That, you see, is what makes the business. Attention from the public continues the story. If you don't want to know the gory details, stop watching them.

And there is some good to be done here. Check out the Hartford Courant's coverage. Now, I have no love lost on the Hartford Courant. They laid my husband off, plunging us into  two years of grief and poverty. So, I'm not like, their secret champion or anything. But they are being heralded for their "tasteful and complete" coverage of the story.

That's a bit more how you enact change. Make a big deal out of the corporations doing it right. Heap accolades upon them and other news outlets (meaning the organizations behind them) will want to do the same.

But going back to the Courant, they are searching not for "angles" but for the stories that will affect change across the nation. Uncovering the background of the gun-loving townspeople, and looking at whether or not this outlook is dangerous, or whether it's just a coincidence. There are deep questions here that need to be answered. We could let the NRA do it, the politicians do it, the public Facebook meme-ers do it, or the journalists do it. Actually, we can't let any of them do it. Because all of them are going to do it anyway.

4) There is no thrill to this story.

It's okay, you can disagree on this one. But I highly doubt you'll be able to find one newsperson, in even the darkest depths of the most private newsroom reveling in this. Stories that are thrilling are investigative pieces, Watergate would be a good example. A piece where you get to play detective, where you get to right a wrong, bring an evil to light. This story is not one of those. It's just a horrible, horrible thing that happened.

Honestly, the Onion posted the best take on this, in my opinion.

5) The media is all the same (and this includes armchair Facebook journalism)

And I hate this.

Actually, I love it in its way. Genius, really. The Denver Post reports about how awful the news is by hanging out at local Newtown restaurants and eavesdropping on conversations. By harassing a woman for an interview who had already told television crews no several times. It's a whole other angle. And one that makes the Denver Post look so sanctimonious, all by doing exactly what every other news organization is doing.

Great job, guys.

And horrible job.

What we should have done, in my opinion, is had a media blackout out of respect for this community and this tragedy. I hoped when I turned on the news that day at ten p.m., I would see nothing. A time to mourn, to process, to grieve.

But that is not the news. And by watching it when it shows stories we're tired of or think have been completely overdone, we are pushing the very stories we say we don't want to see to the front page again and again.

And by posting on Facebook about how everyone just needs to leave the community alone, we are not leaving it alone. We are continuing the conversation. And by crying out against the politicization of the issues at hand, we are furthering those agendas.

If we want quiet on this issue, we have to be quiet.


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