\ Is the Press Broken? - Roger Simon


November 20th, 2018


Is the Press Broken?

Roger Simon

By Roger Simon

Published Nov. 18, 2014

Today is the day I was not going to disappoint @RonSupportsYou, who, as his nom de Twitter implies, is a positive and hopeful person. Which probably means he is used to disappointment.

Ron, one of my earliest Twitter followers, sent me a series of messages a few weeks ago that read:

"You are entitled to write whatever type of column you like, but maybe it is time to write a positive column, as a change of pace.

"Maybe there is something happening now that is good, that you are enthusiastic about. Let us know in a column.

"It can't all be 'doom and gloom' column after column. Maybe surprise readers with a little variety, just for a change.

"This was free advice & worth the price."

It is good advice. Ron would like me to be more positive and, now and again, see the glass as half full.

Recently, I admit, I have been seeing the glass as empty, drained by greedy and grasping politicians who have drunk every drop and then stuffed the glass into their copious coat pockets so they can pawn it later.

But I am trying to take Ron's plea to heart. After all, there is good in this world, and perhaps I and others in the media have been casting too cold an eye on life.

Nor is Ron alone in his feelings. Jim Romenesko's media column recently featured a message from Beth Inglish McMillan, the new "engagement editor" of The Tennessean in Nashville.

She wrote: "I really don't like news that makes me feel sick to my stomach ... and well that seems to be what our media in the U.S. likes to talk about. Why aren't we working harder to lift up the community by focusing on positive role models instead of the negative ones??"

This resulted in some critical responses from journalists, including one from Amy Starnes, city editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, who wrote that it is not the duty of newspapers to "become a community cheerleader" and that McMillan "lacks a fundamental understanding of what it means to be a journalist."

Ulrik Haagerup, director of news at the Danish Broadcasting Corp., recently wrote a book titled "Constructive News," whose message is that "negativity destroys the media and democracy."

He writes that "people are sick and tired of the negative picture of the world presented to them by the press." And he wants his book to serve as a "wakeup call to a paralysed media industry infected by cynicism."

I tried to think back to when I first got infected. I grew up in the world of Chicago journalism, where all rookie reporters were taught that the only way to look upon a politician is down.

This, I agree, is a negative view. But it proved, over and over again, to be an accurate one.

In my lifetime, four governors of Illinois have been convicted of corruption and sent to prison. Some 31 Chicago aldermen have been convicted of crimes since 1973, and since 1976 there have been 1,485 federal convictions of corrupt politicians and businessmen in the courts of the Northern District of Illinois.

You can go to Wikipedia for a staggering list of state and local officials throughout the United States convicted of crimes, as well as separate lists for federal politicians convicted of crimes; United States representatives expelled, censured or reprimanded; United States senators expelled or censured; state and local political scandals; and state and local political sex scandals.

But not all of life is political scandal. There is also murder and mayhem.

As I sit writing this column, the lead story on MSNBC and CNN — as well as the apps for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post — is the murder of four rabbis, three of them American, in Jerusalem by Palestinians armed with a gun, knives and axes. An Israeli police officer also later died of his wounds.

So, a tough day to be upbeat.

In truth, the media hold a mirror up to life. Is it our fault that the mirror is sometimes cracked? Or is it the fault of life itself?

Sometimes the mirror is shiny and bright. Sometimes the news is about all those doctors and nurses and aid workers who could stay home in safety and comfort but who go to Africa to treat Ebola victims.

There are also those who help the homeless and feed the hungry and those ordinary people who don't pass by a shivering body huddled under cardboard on a subfreezing night but make sure the person gets to a shelter. There are parents who show love to their children and children who show love back.

There are laughter and joy, and yes, firefighters still sometimes rescue kittens from trees.

The media should take care that we reflect reality. The news is usually about that which is not ordinary. So you can take small comfort that stories about viciousness and crime are stories that do not make up the sum of everyday life.

As the press does stories on random acts of mayhem, we should also do stories on random acts of kindness.

We do not have to achieve a false balance. We need to reflect what is actual and true.

So if you want the media to be better, build a better world.

I'm sorry, Ron. That's the best I can do today.

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