Monday, December 1, 2014

Responsible reporting

                  If you don't read the newspaper
                  you are uninformed, if you do
                  read the newspaper you are
Mark Twain
                  (I’ll update that to include radio and TV news these days as well.)

          My mother was a newspaper reporter, and she told me something I've never forgotten.  She said, “Be careful about trusting the news.  It’s absurdly easy for incompetent or unethical reporters to color it.  Let’s say, for example, the Sheriff is in Boston speaking at a law enforcement conference.  There’s a terrible local crime while he’s away.  If I don’t happen to like the Sheriff or if I disagree with his policies, I could choose to report only that he was unavailable, or that he could not be reached for comment.  It would be true, but it wouldn't be honest, and readers might well take it to mean he’s not doing his job.  Do you understand?”

          Sadly, Mom’s advice has grown even more wise considering today‘s pseudo-news reporting.

          Whole networks have obvious one-sided political agendas.  Newscasters are as much ego-brandishing celebrities as reporters, and seem to become overnight experts on any number of topics from nutrition to child-rearing to environmental issues to foreign affairs to astrophysics.  They often essentially pre-judge the guilt or innocence of alleged transgressors and they don’t hesitate to slant the news, even to the extent of inciting violence over this or that incident that instead ought to be handled not in the media but within the established legal system, which is all we have in America for any semblance of true justice.

          Editorializing and commentary in journalism, when clearly labeled as such, are protected under our constitution and rightly so, but straight news reporting should be conducted with professional honesty, integrity, thoroughness, accuracy, and absolute objectivity.  Allowing us, the reading and viewing public, to make up our own minds on the issues.

          But good luck with that in today's world.


p.s.  An update to this entry:  Two talking heads on one of my local news channels reported recently that the Kepler space telescope has found an exoplanet, as though this is the first such planet ever discovered.  One of the beautiful heads had to tell the other handsome head that this planet is not within our solar system, but both reporters missed the point entirely.
          The first exoplanet orbiting another sun out in deep space was discovered 22 years ago, and some 1,800 other such planets have since been found rolling around stars in just our relatively tiny neighborhood of the Milky Way.  Kepler alone has discovered a thousand exoplanets.  But two of its four stabilizing reaction wheels failed, thus jeopardizing the whole mission.  The scope is located 40 million miles from earth, so it's not repairable.  The scientists, however, devised an ingenious way to use the weak solar wind to help steer and steady the scope and continue the mission.  So when Kepler was recently able to discover yet another exoplanet despite its severe handicap, it was a major accomplishment.  And that was the story the talking heads should have reported.  It would only have required a few minutes research on their part and some basic knowledge of the universe in which we live.
          The final sad irony here is that the station's news motto is "Getting the facts right."
          In fact, day after day, they somehow manage to get even the simplest facts wrong.
          But they sure are attractive and speak pleasantly.

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