Bob’s comments to me:
Great read all the way through. Trust takes years to build but can evaporate literally overnight. I agree about the crumbling of trust in our country as Americans. I have zero trust in the Fed govt on either side anymore and despite the fact that we are so polarized as a people. I think our major news sources have become basically entertainment and kowtow to the opinions and desires of their clientele and sponsors and are actively pursuing a divided America as hard as any of our enemies are. I mean those news sources on both sides of the aisle too. The sad thing is, I don’t see an a solution in sight.
Robert thanks for your comments.
Lots of room to critique the news coming from all sides. There is also legitimate discussion to have about corporate influence on the news. For now, I’m just going to relate this to my life experience and the evolution of news as I have personally experienced it. I do this both as a consumer of the news and as someone who spent years working in and around newsrooms.
Pre 24-hour cable news we used to consume news much the same way we eat meals. Breakfast lunch, dinner, some snacks or quick grab and go meals.
Most of us caught some morning news on TV headed out the door. Maybe you read the paper or just a quick scan through it. Depending on what you did for a living, you might have caught some mid-day news or caught up on the paper you started that morning. The radio for many supplemented with traffic, weather, and local and national headlines throughout the day. Then there was the evening news. Whether your memory is Cronkite, Rather, or Brokaw the evening news at one time was a much bigger deal.
Then cable news came on the scene. Suddenly, we had news available 24/7/365. I remember in 1990 when CNN was in Baghdad when the initial invasion of the Persian Gulf War began. Cable news was just making its mark, and CNN was the only game in Baghdad on the night of the attack. Night vision green light, missiles, the booms, the flashes. It was thrilling, and a billion people were watching. Cable news was on the map.
A little later this thing called the internet came on the scene (America Online at first for most of us…you’ve got mail!) Then more cable news networks.
All of the cable news networks had the need to fill all 24 hours a day and remain viable doing it. After all, Baghdad attacks only happen every so often, and after a while, the green lights lose their luster. That required finding news versions of “Soap Opera stories” to talk about over and over and still have the hope of keeping eyeballs and filling time. Eyeball grabbing soap operas like the OJ trial, JonBenet Ramsey, and the latest reality TV trial drama were not always there or interesting enough to be covered. The 24 hours needed to be filled 24/7 with cheaper programming.
Opinion based programing was a big part off the programming solution. It didn’t require reporters to investigate anything. No camera crews to send out. In other words, it was much cheaper and easier to get two talking heads or even a panel of talking heads that had newspaper columns or books to sell, or political agendas to push forward. Put a moderator in the middle and yell at each other for hours. CNN’s Crossfire comes to mind. W had seen some earlier examples like William F. Buckley's Firing Line program on PBS. Like him or not Buckley was more high brow than most all of the similar programming that followed.
Talking head purveyors of opinion on news networks had the impact, in my opinion, of people beginning to consume shout fests as news. Opinion is not news.
This was the vocalized TV version of the OP/ED page in the newspaper. These shows had the added appeal of people often yelling back a the TV. Blurring the line between what is actually news and what is opinion.
This includes away from the TV screen. Consumers of news often read an opinion piece and talk about it as if it is news, i.e. reported as fact. These days the talking heads go on TV, and they talk about opinion pieces they and others have written as if they are fact/news.
More recently, websites/blogs/youtube channels of all political persuasions have popped up claiming their slice of the audience pie and pitting Americas and our neighbors around the globe against each other in the process. Many of them do this veiled in the premise that truth, justice and a fight for America’s soul is their motivating factor. Legions of fans jump on board in much the same way we root for our favorite team. I’m on team blue…I’m on team red and everyone who isn’t on my team sucks! Or isn’t American! Or has less than honorable intentions! I’m guilty of hardcore “rooting for my team” myself.
We all are as humans and so this subject, in totality, is more dynamic than what I have written here. But, in many respects, this all has created fertile ground for the idea of “fake news” to take root.
The solution to all our ills is not changing the news somehow. At least not the content of the news. I think that would be deeply and profoundly wrong. I fall back on an old saying I have heard, “It’s a friend who tells you when your shirts on fire.” I think well-reported fact-based news can and often does do that for us.
I’m not making an argument against opinions being expressed via news outlets. I don’t have a problem with content. The problem I see is more how it’s presented. I do think TV, the Internet, and newspapers can and should do a much better job of annoying us with statements exclaiming THIS IS NOT THE NEWS. THIS IS OPINION.
In my opinion, it’s problematic when a news channel has it’s actual reporters sit on panels surrounded by people being asked for their opinion. All the networks do it. The reporters are reasonably good at not engaging in giving their opinion. However, the format creates confusion. Who is giving their opinion? Or the opinion of someone or something they are there representing? Is it made crystal clear the reporter is a reporter and not just saying what they are saying because that’s their opinion? There is a we all know each other right? All too comfortable nature on TV sets. As far as newspapers and legitimate news outlets on the internet are concerned, I think they can graphically do a much better job of hitting their consumers over the head with identifying the news and the opinion as distinct from each other. This is an opinion piece not reporting by this news outlet.
Here is the news as the XYZ Post has reported it.
I think this is especially true for news when it’s pushed out on social media outlets.
Many non news junkies don’t distinguish the difference between the reporter and the talking head on TV or in print. Additionally, this allows for what is being put out under the banner of a news outlet and their veil of credibility to be used and manipulated by individuals and entities.
I have heard the argument from producers (I used to be one myself), hosts of news programs, reporters, and editors…give the people more credit for being intelligent and being able to discern. Give people credit for being smart.
I hear that loud and clear. However, in my world, people are busy, and most aren’t focused on the difference between two seemingly authoritative figures on their 42 inch HD TV. Not everyone reads to the bottom of the opinion column and see the print letting them know who wrote this and who or what they represent.
I think distinctions and delinations need to be stated over and over. It needs to be done by the host of the show when introductions are given in the beginning and when thanking people for coming on in the end. So and so is here as a Whitehouse reporter and will only be discussing facts and information as reported by. On the other side of the table, this morning is so and so from the blah blah think tank or former secretary of whatever. He/she will be expressing their opinion of what has or will happen.
In newspapers maybe when opinion is written it should appear in a different color ink. Or perhaps a notification on top of the column in an unmistakable manner. This is not news reported by the XYZ Journal. This is the opinion of the writer.
I agree it seems silly in some respects but here we are.
Stating more clearly and more repeatedly what something is and is not can be a useful part of an unblurring of the lines and will go a long way toward their being space for trust.