News media has always been stratified: Cream of the crop. Bottom of the barrel. Big in-between.
Today there’s less cream, much more bottom and in-between. In part because of more voices with more megaphones. Read it online? On Twitter? Must be true, right?
Consider actor George Clooney’s recent battle with London’s Daily Mail over allegations that his fiancée’s Lebanese family disapproves of their marriage and hinted it might end in death. Clooney responded furiously, and he waged his fight indirectly with articles he wrote in USA Today.
With tongue firmly in cheek, British comedian John Cleese added his own insights on the dust-up on Twitter: “I totally disagree with George Clooney. They are much, much worse than that.”
Scoff if you want. But tabloid news wins the race for race for eyeballs. Daily Mail’s online version is reputedly the most visited English language media site anywhere.
Which begs the question: If that’s what the public really wants, isn’t that what it should be given? Shudder at the thought, for those who believe there’s a higher purpose for the media.
Tawdry and salacious aren’t the only factors driving media. So is redefining for the digital age what it means for reporters in the field to bear witness to events.
Historically, a firewall existed between reporters and the public — editors and fact-checkers whose job was to weed out bias and ensure accuracy. That wall is crumbling. Today reporters are able to instantly file on Twitter what they see and their impressions of what is happening.
Reporters for the New York Times and NBC were ensnared in the tug of war in the Mideast because of candid comments. The former was transferred elsewhere in the world. The latter was withdrawn, but soon afterward was returned to the posting.
Had the reporters overstepped their bounds? Were the news organizations responding to outside pressures? Good questions. The real answers will probably never be known.
There’s always been a fine line between opinion, analysis and perspective. The first, arguably, has never had a place in news columns; that’s what op-ed pages are for. The distinction between analysis and perspective has always been fuzzy.
A wire service reporter described to a colleague how he makes sense of complex stories: “I never write analyses. AP won’t permit it. I just put events in perspective.”
“What’s the difference?” the friend asked.
“Nothing. But the editors are more comfortable with the concept.”
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