“Where did you get your facts for that article?”
To anyone in the news business, that question is usually comes right before someone gets ready to launch into a tirade about our alleged poor fact checking. About how terribly wrong we were in some news article. Nine times out of ten, it turns out that the subject simply didn’t want certain facts in the story to come out and they’re now ready to do war with the messenger.
That question came to mind this morning as I was reading about the sudden demise of one of Great Britain’s newspapers, the 168-year-old News of the World. Owner Rupert Murdoch, who also owns several American properties, including the Wall Street Journal, shut the tabloid-sized newspaper down following revelations that staffers had been obtaining information by hacking into text messages and other media. The accounts of as many as 4,000 people—some of them deceased children—have been hacked according to news reports.
The Fourth Estate across the pond, as many who follow international news may have already surmised, is quite different. From printing sexually graphic reports to sleazy gossip, it seems the English press will go to great lengths to print anything.
If you thought it was bad in American journalism, you ain’t seen nothing until you see what our friends in Europe consider news. Let’s just say in that part of the world, one has to keep the newspapers put up from children.
Reports of these so-called journalists spying on people and hacking into various social media accounts reflect poorly on all of us media types. However, given the Fourth Estate’s already poor reputation worldwide, we predict that this event will not cause any great damage to a profession that has already been cast in a poor light for some time.
Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t share a tidbit of gossip and then turn around and say, “But don’t print that.” Even at church, well-intentioned folks have turned to us in a crowd and admonished us, “But you can’t print that.”
Anyone in the news business can tell such stories about the public’s reaction to one who makes his or her living in the realm of the media.
It would seem that the public believes media types to be children in need of guidance. Why else would someone feel the need to constantly remind us about basic human behavior?
We can’t speak for our counterparts in the big-time spotlight, but us small-timers are just plain folks like everyone else. Some of us have formal education in our chosen profession and others of us just fell into it and found out we weren’t half bad at it.
In the small-town news game, chances are the local newspaper staff—sometimes the staff is just one person—knows nearly everyone in town. The idea of hacking into someone’s computer or their cell phone would be anathema. So also would be the idea of printing salacious tidbits that could only damage the very people we depend on to purchase our product and supply us with news items.
Some years ago, I started a second small-town weekly newspaper. When managing two papers became too much for me, I sold the newer paper to a gentleman and his wife.
It wasn’t terribly long before this couple made several changes to the paper. They first began treating local officials like dirt. Perhaps there was corruption in the local government, but they made the mistake of alienating the very people who gave them news. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they started in on private citizens and businesspeople—the very ones who placed advertisements with them. Ads that paid the bills soon left out for a kinder, gentler terrain and it wasn’t terribly long before their newspaper had gone bust.
Arrogance and high-handed, abusive behavior may be tolerated in our national media, but locally, we’re a different breed. We’re folks just like you.
Besides, we’ve already hacked into your cell phone. You know, you’re a boring person. We didn’t get nary a story idea from you.