Monday, December 06, 2021

I Get Letters!

      "Why Is It News" must have hit a nerve, judging from the comments that came in.  A couple of them are worth refuting.

      Before beginning that, some background: for most of the past 34 years, I have been able to walk down a hall at work and step into a working newsroom.  Some of the people there are my friends; a few over the years have been anything but.  Reporters, news producers and news photographers are the working edge of the newsroom, with the big-cheese News Director and his or her Assistant hovering just offstage and the news anchors, investigative reporters and Sports and Weather people around the periphery.  They are a cross-section of humanity.  While most of them are fairly young, not all of them are; while many of them fit pretty comfortably into the spectrum of Democrat voters, not all of them do; many are professing Christians of various denominations, with a sprinkling of other faiths; some of them are a fair match for the cynical, agnostic, wisecracking reporter trope of old movies but others are far less hardened.

      Earlier in my working life, I was around radio reporters and newsrooms (at times, in small markets, I *was* the newsroom, while also being the DJ and the engineer); even earlier, newspaper reporters.  What all of them have in common is that they work under enormous time pressure, on an effort too big and messy to be micromanaged.  (Newspaper editors and Radio/TV News Directors are not at all like James Bond villains and most closely resemble a small child trying to keep track of a box of puppies or kittens.)  I have seen how the sausage is made and I know the people who make it.

      They're not "up to" anything other than trying to keep timely information up on the web-page and get stories written, pictures added and all of it edited coherently for the next press time or airtime. There isn't time to gin up skullduggery.  In TV, someone on the "digital desk" (usually an assignment editor wearing a second hat) gets stories on the website, usually with words and pictures culled from newscasts and updated on the fly if more information comes to light.  Reporters follow leads, assignment editors listen to scanners, and the old "police blotter" and "wire service" come in electronically.   Stories are assembled into a newscast -- and sometimes rewritten, usually for length (or in the case of wire-service items, to include a local angle) -- by a News Producer,  They may have a couple of hours to pull together a half-hour of news, if they're lucky.  (Radio people back in the days of hourly newscasts had it worse, with 55 minutes to ready the next newscast and work the phones.) 

      Keeping people's attention is not easy.  Getting them to return for more, day after day, is even harder.  One commenter tells me that I am, "Nope, dead wrong. News is there to take your money. Advertisers pay big bucks to be seen. If the program loses audience share, the vendors take away the money. Ergo, the news is meant to entice, scare, and occasionally entertain, but most of all, it intends, plans, and chooses stories and viewpoints to keep you attentive for the next commercial." 

      Yeah, well, kind of.  News doesn't take your money.  Not even the commercials do.  The advertisers might take your money, if their ads are good enough and they are offering stuff you want to buy.  The news, though, the news has a kind of distant (and slightly strained) relationship with the department that's getting money by selling commercials.  The news will be there no matter who is advertising on it -- if the news can give you content you want to watch.  And that usually means local and regional weather (ever notice how often weather forecasts pop up?), local and regional sports, and local and regional news.  It means not lying, because that won't hold up: there's another newscast in a few hours, another one on the other channel right now, and lies always unravel.  But that's as big as the picture gets, period.  The News Director might worry about market share, and order snappy new graphics or hire different news anchors; the person pounding away at a keyboard to come up with actual news content you'll watch doesn't have that kind of Big-Picture view -- or a long waxed mustache and a chortling laugh, either.

      Another commenter thinks my co-workers are The Face Of Evil, chiding me for having written: "'Most of them sincerely want to do good, at least as they see it.' That could be the motto for The Road to Hell Paving Company. Every 'villain' of history has been trying to make the world into what he believes is a better version of the world."

      Whoa, Nellie!  Y'know what The News At Five doesn't have that Joe Stalin did?  Power.  The news has no troops, no police (secret or otherwise), no commisars or spies.  Hell, they haven't even got Senators.  Your local news sincerely tries to do an honest job.  They may bungle it; the bean-counters are everywhere these days, resulting in fewer people trying to do more work; but they didn't set out to BS you, and they're describing the world, not trying to "make [it] into ... a better version...."  Oh, sure, most stations push a few local charities, and there's always room for an uplifting story about helping puppies, kittens (or, occasionally, the homeless), but if you asked that hapless news producer about "remolding society," she'd laugh in your face and remind you that there's only forty-five minutes to airtime and half the reporters are still editing video.

      The same commenter says, "...add propagandists to that list of villains."  Hey, maybe, but that is exactly not what the news is doing.  A) they don't have time, B) most of 'em aren't subtle enough, (look, I'm sorry, but the skill of hammering out copy to get across who, what, when, where, how and why in reasonably coherent language and absolute minimum time is simply inconsistent with creating propaganda.  This is a subject I have read extensively on; Sefton Delmer is one of the better sources of information.) and C) it may be hard to believe, but there is plenty of competition across town and across the country who absolutely will call out anything even resembling propagandizing if they try -- as Sinclair learned the hard way. And even at those Sinclair stations, the basic local news is trustworthy; possibly underfunded, but what they can do, they'll work to get right.  (Large group owners do sometimes try to put a thumb on the scales; it rarely works and never for long.  Newsrooms are impossible to micromanage in a country with a free and competitive press.  Those puppies just won't stay in the box.)

      The commenter also remarks, "Burying the Epstein story because reasons."  So "buried" that the guy's last name is all you need to use to refer to it?  Some burial!  Over the weekend I was told the Ghislane Maxwell trial had been "swept under the rug by the mainstream media," and yet plugging "maxwell trial epstein" into a search engine pulled in page after page of recent results and the top three were stories from the New York Times, CNN and NPR, all about as mainstream as you can get and all at least slightly Left of center.  All of them promised ongoing coverage, noting the trial was not yet over.  My cat does a better job of hiding things than that.

      If you are only getting your "news" from commentators and personalities on Right-leaning networks and websites (or, indeed, from the far-Left ones), you're probably going to think things about the conventional, news-focused, local media that are demonstrably untrue.  You're probably going to have opinions about the near-center "mainstream media" that do not accurately reflect what those outlets are doing.

      Please, seek out multiple sources of news.  Pay attention to your local news providers, who will vary mostly in presentation.  At the national level, seek variety; all-NPR or all-Fox News (etc.) all the time will tilt your perceptions of all media.  And don't confuse commentators on those national networks and channels with local (or national) reporters.  It's not the same job and they're not providing the same product.  Rachael Maddow and Tucker Carlson and all their ilk are peddling opinions, not facts.

      Far-Left media has long been a source of whackdoodlery and BS, but far-Right (and even some plain-Right) media has caught up fast in recent years.  In each case, there's a lot of grift driving it along with crazed True Believers of various types, and one of the things they all have in common is that they want to get you locked into their particular take; and one of the best ways to do that is to cast doubt any source other than themselves.   An excessive amount of quack-medicine commercials and two-for-one "call now!" ads hawking  questionable products are pretty good indicators that you should look for a second opinion.

      Someone may be feeding you stuff and nonsense.  It's probably not your local news.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another great post.

I'd say more, but I have to fix something, being careful not to step on any kittens or puppies on the way. ;)

Sevesteen said...

Dunno if I've said it here, but the few times I've had firsthand knowledge of news stories the reporting has had significant material errors. If the stories had been controversial it wouldn't be hard to make the jump to blaming bias...but these were boring local stories, only interesting if you know the people personally.