Has Happened To The News?
the recent face-off between MSNBC commentator Rachael Maddow and the Comedy Channel’s politically oriented comedian
Jon Stewart with great interest. They explored their personal roles in the field of reporting the news and in the process,
touched on the way the presentation of news stories has dramatically changed because of cable television news services and
volunteered to appear on Maddow’s show November 9 after Stewart and fellow comedian Stephen Colbert staged a pre-election
rally Oct. 30 at the Lincoln Memorial that drew over 200,000 people to Washington. Both Stewart and Maddow also have been
trading friendly barbs at one another on their shows, thus stirring a debate over just what their roles should be within
the news arena.
failed to reach any definitive conclusions on November 9. What they did agree on was that the creation of a multitude of “talking
heads” expressing news commentary on just about everything being said about even minor events has changed the dynamics
of today's reporting of news.
Stewart, he worried that we have all become addicted to 24-hour news and we become disappointed when we keep hearing
the same news story repeated over and over again. Thus the talking heads on all of the so-called news channels like MSNBC,
CNN and FOX are quick to grab at anything they might use to put a fresh light on old stories, or plunge into editorial comment.
also has been a tendency to pick up on statements made by political, famous and infamous people, even turning accidentally
recorded and nonsensical remarks into outlandish issues that make headlines when, in truth, they should never be considered
part of the news picture. Thus the talking heads get caught up in sometimes distorting the story.
Stewart carefully defined his role as a comedian who specializes in carefully designed
barbs at political events and the outlandish things going on in Washington. Maddow saw herself as doing similar things, but
following the more strickly controlled role of a news reporter on her show. She also has proven herself to be skilled
at using humor to tell her stories and make her points.
does not declare himself a reporter of news while Maddow does. Yet both manage to use their television time to make editorial
comment about political events. From an old newspaper reporter’s viewpoint, we question just where this is going.
I personally find
something important missing in the reporting of news in America, and especially in Washington, D. C.
been a major shift in the way news stories are reported since I first got into the business as a cub reporter for a weekly
newspaper while still in high school. Those were the days when the basic rules of journalism were to report the story
objectively and save personall opinions for the editorial page.
reporters worked their way up the chain, learning their skills at writing and covering news stories from the professionals
they worked under. We were taught to not only get the story, but find out how the event impacted the readers. If there was
controversy we went out of our way to get both sides of the issue. We dug for the truth and never fabricated. And if, heaven
forbid, we made a mistake, to our shame we admitted it and published a correction in the next day’s edition.
reporting did not always involve the big story. What we did was keep a daily log of everything important that was happening
in our community. That involved hours of often boring work. We sat at and took notes during hours of city council, township
board, school board and county board meetings. We covered court arraignments and trials. We scoured over stacks of police
reports. We studied government budgets and assessment rolls, writing about how these documents would affect homeowners. It
was difficult sometimes finding ways to write these stories so that they would not only be of interest, but clearly understood
by our readers.
was the way I learned journalism. We were still operating that way on the weekly newspaper I worked for prior to going into
full retirement. By then the daily newspapers around us were fighting for survival as television and Internet news gobbled
up advertising revenues and the attention of busy people rushing to and fro in a changing world.
I saw as a last-ditch effort to salvage the newspaper industry, the daily papers were turning away from the tedious job of
reporting government news. They were concentrating instead on feature stories and sensational news events. They appeared to
be trying to compete with the nightly television news that gave us only the highlights in short, concise packages. This was
have always been considered the “Fourth Estate.” That is, the presence of journalists, constantly watching and
reporting what happens in the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government puts transparency on everything that
happens in government, from city hall to the nation’s capital.
the trouble in our government began after newsmen and women stopped being the watchdogs they were always meant to be.