A recent Perceptions of Professional Groups poll indicated that Americans’ faith in journalists continues to dwindle, putting them just a step above business executives and lawyers. The poll showed that teachers, medical doctors and the military round out the top three.
A poll like that really puts in perspective how far journalists have digressed over the years. We’ve come from being one of the most respected career fields, to being one of those Americans distrust. The question is why? However, the problem is there are plenty of answers and issues to address.
First, there are the areas where it’s not really the journalists fault. The Internet created a new wave of storytelling. They call themselves citizen journalists, however, they will be referred to as storytellers. They are not professionals, they do not have the training and in most cases have something to prove or gain in everything they spout off. These storytellers talk of wanting to do what’s right for the community, to bring out the truth. Really, they get a high off of the attention they get, but aren’t held to the same standards as a real journalists, but somehow believe they should be treated the same.
Then, there’s the talk radio shows aimed at enraging the public, and spouting off whatever issues they have with the political party they oppose that day. Rather than real journalism, the problem with many of these shows is how they read a journalist’s article and critique it. Somewhere they got the notion that they had some kind of training to take and insert their own prejudices into a journalist’s story to translate it into what they want it to mean. Too often, the stories they are criticizing aren’t properly portrayed in the soundbyte they are working to fill.
Then, we have an area where journalism and the media should be held accountable for the unpopular road we continue to travel. The George Zimmerman trial is a perfect example of the problems with mainstream media.
For those who listened to the trial, the jury’s not guilty verdict was not so far fetched. The state didn’t prove a case for second-degree murder. The issue of race was not a part of the criminal trial, instead, that debate was played out primarily through the media. The main reason being – the story is just too delicious. You had this case where one side is crying foul because they felt race was the primary reason to motivate George Zimmerman, who is not white, to pull a gun and kill a teenage boy.
The media saw the picture of a young Trayvon Martin smiling from years before and rolled with it. They painted George Zimmerman as a monster, NBC went as far as editing a tape to make the racial storyline that much more juicy. They had to apologize later, and now face a defamation lawsuit from Zimmerman. ABC reported that Zimmerman suffered no abrasions in the altercation with Martin. That turned out to be wrong as well.
The story was juicy, and journalists didn’t pass it up. However, there may not have been such a controversy regarding race had the media covering the stories simply done their jobs, verified the facts and reported the story fairly for Zimmerman and the Martin family. The shooting was a tragedy, and the media in no way helped.
Television ratings, online page views and the need for a juicy story may sometimes get in the way, but at the end of the day, there are more responsible, well-intentioned , hard-working journalists out there than we can count. Just rely on the ones trained to be journalists and not a biased citizen writer, or a radio host looking to fill a couple of hours. We all have faults, but we play a key role in disclosing, reporting and featuring the stories and photographs that benefit local communities and society as a whole.