We need serious news, now

IUS Horizon

It’s tough to retain your dignity as a journalist these days with all the crap on the air and in print.

This week, I looked to corporate media to find some information on the elections. Usually, I stick to NPR or other public outlets, but for some reason, I ignored my principles this time.

All of the major outlets, CNN, FOX and MSNBC have completely left news out of their focus. Their sets grow ever-more elaborate and, consequently, more distracting.

On CNN, Anderson Cooper appeared to be walking around some kind of space station. The CNN logo was bright and huge and lit and brandished in so many places, I couldn’t even see anything about last week’s vice presidential debate. Obviously, the network spent more money on their set than their reporting.

I didn’t even know CNN was covering the election when I saw their program. I thought it was a giant advertisement for CNN and Anderson Cooper’s pretty face.

Oh wait, it probably was just an ad.

Crawlers and graphs and tickers dominate the media real estate on television rather than anything of value. In-depth reporting is dead for television, and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to resuscitate our media.

It’s not just the big guys who have perverted reporting. Even the local station are laden with face lifted, Botox injected smiles who are more concerned with airtime and makeup than doing any real work.

Television isn’t the only media form making my skin crawl at the moment, though. Even my beloved newspapers have let me down.

A lot of newspapers used to have photo essays that were both creative and substantive. They showed the conditions of what people had to deal with, and they showed the gravity of emotions through their pictures.

Today, newspapers and other publications rely heavily on celebrity-based photography. It’s all talking heads and public figures rather than people in communities dealing with problems and triumphs.

A few photography agencies like VII still do wonderful work, but their prominence is slowly ebbing away in world where having the story now is more important than having the story right.

Even to a degree, reporting has suffered the modern problems facing media. With publishers concerning themselves with the immediacy of their news, deep, investigative reporting is disappearing. Getting the scoop has taken priority over getting the story.

It’s even more disheartening as someone trying to break into the media business when newspapers are cutting jobs left and right. The Courier- Journal cut 15 positions last summer, and it doesn’t intend to rehire any of those jobs.

Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I think people would be more willing to buy a paper if they were assured to learn something from it every day. People can keep up on events every day, but it’s becoming more and more difficult for them to come away with something from those stories.

I love National Public Radio, but I’ve even become a little disenchanted with the way they’ve handled covering last week’s vice presidential debates. They had an expert on American accents on to talk about whether or not Sarah Palin sounded like Frances McDormand’s character in “Fargo.”

Seriously? We’re talking about an election the world is watching, and one of the most respected radio news broadcasters in the world, and you’re worried about what an Alaskan really sounds like? Way to keep on top of what really matters.

What’s been done to news is absolutely obscene. I simply refuse to believe that everyone in the world has such a bad case of ADD that they wouldn’t pay attention to a seriously in depth-story.

If anything, the kind of coverage we’re seeing today would drive everyone, even those without insurance, to find a prescription for Ritalin. It’s too hard to tell where exactly they want us to direct our focus.

This is the stuff journalists dream of: Watergate with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Vietnam with David Halberstam and then Ernie Pyle’s coverage of Japan in World War II. Are those glory days gone?

People don’t pay attention to the media anymore because there isn’t anything deserving attention. Media giants need to rethink how they’re approaching  coverage and give people stories that matter.

By JEROD CLAPP
Senior Editor
jlclapp@ius.edu