Reformed … and Concerned.

Re: Media, Mistrust and Me

This is going to be a little more personal than usual. Apologies.

What comes next is not a generalization, but rather a comment about cultural context.

Many people around which I grew up railed against the media, calling them biased, liberal and at enmity with American principles.

The rage was generally directed toward media brands and media organizations, with maybe a few individuals singled out as the visage of the demon.

It was hard to tell whether the government was the greatest evil or whether the media should be crowned with that title.

That was the 70s and 80s.

I understood them. I also understood their point of view. Sometimes I agreed. I also developed a skepticism toward government of any party and media of any type.

That skepticism also contributed to my rejection of the idea that an entire public sector and an entire fourth estate were always wrong, all the time.

In conflict with the above, I also aspired to be either a politician or a somehow part of the media world.

But then “the media” were people whom none of us would never meet. They were in far away cities suitable for stereotyping and tourism.

Of course our local TV stations, radio and newspapers weren’t “media.” They were local and we bumped into the humans behind those organizations occasionally.

“The media” was (not ‘were’ – media was a singular entity in our minds) a highly-organized, agenda-driven group who swilled wine together, plotted their agenda and preyed upon the ignorance of the people.

Eventually I stumbled into the media sector, and have spent the better part of 20 years there. Members of the media are friends, co-workers and pretty close to family in some cases. Sure I’m on the business side rather than editorial, but I’ve learned a few things.
Here are some random ones:

1. Some people rail against the organizations where I’ve worked, but since they know me, I’m somehow an exception. Others, lump me in as if I’ve gone through a brainwashing.

2. Media as a sector is competitive, unruly and fiercely independent. The idea that the entire sector could pull off a coordinated conspiracy is hilarious.

3. Being wrong is bad business and bad for editorial careers. Reputation is a crucial part of the long-term health of a media company. Reputation drives audience, which in turn drives revenue. Being wrong is bad business. It’s also expensive to get sued. Being wrong too often is devastating for journalist reputations as well.

4. For quality editorial operations (disproportionately referred to pejoratively as ‘mainstream media’), by the time a story finds its way through the several layers of editing, any remaining bias is unintentional, though not absent.

5. Inside of a quality editorial operation, there is an inherent suspicion of anything to do with government. Doesn’t matter what party. They are, and should be, natural enemies.

6. Increasingly, I hear people making wild accusations about public figures and journalists I know. Their absolute confidence in the ‘facts’ they share about that person outweigh any direct knowledge or perspective I may have.

7. Journalists have always been competitive, trying to attack each other’s credibility and/or access. It seems even those battles have become depersonalized, and more about media brands than people. Even worse, it’s done in front of audiences, who all-too-willingly join in on the fights.

This is already too long. It could be an even more too-long book.

I hope this environment somehow shifts. In the meantime, maybe this offers a little perspective.

The media “are” (yes, plural – many people, many outlets) not your ‘friends,’ but they are your best defense.