Well, here we are.
First off, I took this selfie (a true rarity for me) right before heading out to the polls this morning. In other words, it was shot with my phone, so excuse the image quality as it’s a bit off.
But I digress.
What I really want to talk about today is not so much the election, but how it has affected the press. This is the first presidential election that I have not worked in a newsroom, and it has been very interesting. First, because I’m finally allowed to post my opinions and be free with them (more on that later) and second because with so many people attacking mainstream media, it’s really got me thinking.
There have been a lot of people holding the “mainstream media” out as a giant conspiracy, and I need to be clear, that is complete bullshit. And if you don’t believe me that the media has become a target, take a look at this Trump supporter.
For the twenty two years that I worked in newsrooms across the country (red states, blue states, wherever), the main focus of every political story we covered was to remain objective. Now, before you get upset, I need to clarify that the OPINION PAGES (usually located at the back of the A section or the B section) are used to voice the editor’s opinions and those of the community. These opinions sit in a specific, cordoned off area of the paper. You also need to know that those editors whose voices are used on these pages also sit in a different, cordoned off area of the newspaper building. They do not attend news meetings, they are rarely, if ever, even seen in the newsroom, and they have zero say on how stories are “played” in the regular paper. They work on those two pages in the paper where opinion is allowed, and that’s it. For instance, in all of my years in various newsrooms, I never even saw the editorial cartoonist (or didn’t know if I did). And I’m an art director! That’s how separate the areas of the paper are kept.
I think a huge failing of the internet is that so many “stories” are shared via email, facebook or wherever, and they are not blatantly marked as coming from the newspaper’s opinion pages. They are not coming from the mainstream media. They are coming from the opinion pages. These two things are very different, and please remember that.
Also, every single newsroom I ever worked in had rules that as journalists we needed to appear objective and we were not allowed to post our opinions in public forums or display yard signs or anything like this. It almost killed me during the Obama elections. But! Contrary to popular belief, we are not all democrats! I have wonderful friends from my years in newsrooms who are deep-rooted conservatives. And they, too, had to keep their opinions quiet. So it sucked for everyone!
Now, back to the “regular” newspaper. I cannot tell you the amount of time and energy that is spent in a newsroom making sure coverage is equal of both parties. From photo size, to photo selection to amount of story that appeared on the front page to graphics to headline size. IT ALL MATTERED. Because we wanted to be as fair as possible and we didn’t want any visuals to sway how people thought.
Clearly, I’m not a reporter or editor, but considering how much attention was paid to my headline sizes by the various editors in chief that I worked with, I am certain that same level of attention was paid to the word selection in the stories. Also, you should know that we knew we were doing our job right when we got 100 angry calls from Republicans saying we were too liberal and that same day got 100 angry calls from Democrats saying we were too conservative. When you are pissing everyone off? You’re doing things right.
But now that I’ve given you a little background, I want to talk about how times have changed.
I was stunned when I studied in London back in 2008 and saw how the papers there didn’t work to be objective. How the conservatives had their paper and the liberals had theirs. And I liked that system better. I felt like we were working so damn hard to be objective back in the states, that we weren’t presenting the news in the right way for fear of angering one political party or another. Sometimes in an effort to be “fair” you forget about things that are important and might need more coverage because it’s the right thing to do.
But then TV news took a turn, and the networks became just that. They started catering to the parties, and all of a sudden, it felt like people in general were less informed. People watch what they want to watch, and they ignore what they don’t want to hear. And that, my friends, is dangerous.
Another great example of this is Facebook. My own feed is “curated” by the company, and I see almost all liberal points of view. But when I do see my conservative friends’ posts (yes! I have lots of conservative friends! They are smart, thoughtful and wonderful people!), I always click to read them. I want to know how “the other side” sees things. I want to know their point of view.
But as the election has grown nearer, I don’t see those posts as much. Because Facebook is showing me what it thinks I *want* to see. And having papers with blatant political slants would be the same.
As you can tell, I don’t really have the answer here. What news sources will I always trust? The Washington Post and the New York Times. I know it’s different for everyone. But I am begging people not to fall into a trap of thinking that the mainstream media is in on some sort of conspiracy. They work so diligently to bring fair and balanced coverage, and also to work in the best interest of the people. And if they are a tad slower reporting the news than Twitter or your favorite blog? It’s because they are confirming the facts first (VERY IMPORTANT!) and they are working to get a voice to the other side of the issue (aslo, VERY IMPORTANT!). I’ve seen it in action for years and years and years. And tonight and tomorrow night? These are the toughest shifts of their lives.
Don’t buy the hype that the media is a conspiracy or a machine with an agenda. The “mainstream media” is working hard to keep everyone informed of the facts. Even if they disagree with them. I promise.