My Obligation….

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Today’s in class discussion sparked an idea in me.   I talked a little about it in class and I mentioned it to Justin, but it deals with our obligation to the public, ourselves and those who pay the bills.

Ask most any serious journalist or journalism students what their first obligation is when it comes to journalism, and they’ll (and we’ll) tell you that it’s the truth.  We are in this business to find the truth.  We certainly aren’t in it for the money.  It is a calling.

We can call ourselves the watchdog’s of the government, and it is pretty cool to find some government mismanagement or issue.  But we also love telling personal stories and finding the good in the world.  Those are the fun stories to tell.  So when we get into the professional world and we have to go by the “if it bleeds it leads” motto, something dies inside us.  Why?

Because TV news and even newspapers are becoming more and more show businessy.  Lead stories are murders or crashes or missing children.  Why?  People are interested in that stuff and they like to see it on the news.  If it bleeds, it leads.  And it has too, or people won’t watch.  If people don’t watch, advertisers and ads don’t reach as many people.  If that happens, then they won’t advertise.  No advertisers, no money.  No money, no jobs.   And that just sucks.

How do we as journalists balance the bleeding stories with the great, personal awesome stories?  We just have to sit down, grin and bear it, I guess.  We  find our contacts, write the stories, then put our time and effort into the real stories.  Those still make it into the news, and they get great reactions too.

I don’t like it that this is our model now.  I want to help change that, but I don’t know how or if it is even possible.  I would like to think that journalists are more informed than the general population because it’s our job, but when the news is just people dying or missing, are we really?   It all becomes a cycle.

I want out of that cycle, but it feels like there is no way out because the business side won’t allow it. I mean, it’s not like we make a ton of money either.

Yes, I went with the money line.  It’s okay though.  Why?  Because we actually, really, 100% love what we do.  Most of the time.

5 Comments on “My Obligation….”

  1. I agree with you on a lot of these points… but I have one question for you:

    What would you say to the cynical viewers and readers who are consistently saying they don’t watch the news BECAUSE it’s so sad? Because “if it bleeds it leads?” I’ve actually found this to be a more frequent complaint than any other lately.

    I don’t watch CBS5 here in Phoenix for specifically that reason; they’re always leading with mug shots and the latest robbery. It’s important in local news to cover some of these things, but I’m waiting for the day multimedia allows journalists to take their lead reporting to the next level. Because of the internet and phone application notifications and etc. I would hope that viewers will start to go to the web and their phones to get information on latest shooting and/or robbery in their area. Then, hopefully, leaving the front page and the newscast to be filled with news that affects more than the 500 people who live around the gas station. Say, news that actually matters, if you will.

  2. First off, I LOVE the picture! It made me smile.
    I do not like how local news focuses on the “bleeding” stories. I like Emily’s idea of having stories about crime, robbery, shootings etc. available online.
    I do not think our current news broadcast model is working. It’s hard for me to believe most people enjoy hearing about crime, death and other depressing topics. But this is what local stations think keeps the audiences’ attention and keeps ratings up.
    I think the business side of local broadcast needs to be revamped. I know my friends and family would much rather see a compelling story than another crime story. It is our job to make a relevant and important issue into a memorable story through creative writing, well composed video, effective use of audio, and any other tactic that will make the story more engaging.
    I think it is possible to break out of the current news model.

    1. Kelsea, I completely agree that we need to break out of the current model. Emily makes a great point about not watching CBS because of how much “bleeding” there is on the news. It’s there, and there is too much. That’s why NewsWatch is nice because we don’t cover those stories. Our stories sometimes have a broader impact, or even a more niche focus, but they are good, informed stories.

      I might have overdone my post. I probably could have eased back on the pessimism.

      But how do we change the business model to make people watch, report all the stories (sometimes the fire or the shooting can be important or impactful if linked) and make sure it all is good. Time is a factor and already stretched newsrooms are having trouble keeping up. How do we bring in more money so we can chase the good stories all of the time instead of the some of the time?

      That’s the million dollar question…I hope we can answer it. Because I’m tired of the bleeding

  3. Eric, you eloquently put into words something that’s been bothering me about the industry for a long time. Even as someone who works for a newspaper, I come across the “showbiz” mentality every day. A murder gets better play in the paper than an in-depth story about a city fire department in desperate need of financial help. Why? Because people would rather read the splashy, “exciting” news, regardless of its impact.

    I agree with you that a large part of the problem is the way the business is run. Our first obligation may be to the truth, but our paychecks come from the advertisers — and advertisers want readers/viewers, and readers/viewers want a show.

    I don’t have the answers, unfortunately. But I think the first place to start is by overhauling the current business model. If we’re so strapped for cash that we have to resort to entertaining instead of serving as watchdogs because we simply can’t afford it, it’s time for a change. I think the current move toward increased online coverage provides a great opportunity for a new business model that’s not so dependent on how many eyeballs a story draws. It’s up to us, as the next generation of journalists, to figure out what exactly that entails.

  4. Ah, Eric, this, as we know is all too prominent in our chosen field of broadcast journalism! As Emily stated above, local news tends to focus on negatives and, more than that, on the “if it bleeds, it leads” motto. The A-block of many nightly newscasts seems to be nothing more than the latest robberies and same routine over and over again.

    What are we learning from all of this? It often feels like nothing. People new to Phoenix might learn that the West Valley is typically more dangerous than part of the East Valley, but where is the true value in that? I think the mentality also divides communities.

    The scary question here is where and HOW do we even begin to start to lead to real change? Are we trying to bring in more documentary-style newscasts, with depth and meaning? I suppose it will be our job to be leaders in this regard when we get out into the field. I have my fingers and toes crossed for all of us!!

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