I’ll just come right out and say it: the news media is not your enemy. Although the reference was made toward network TV, 24-hour news channels and a major publication or two, these organizations are simply doing their jobs in reporting matters of national consequence, good or bad. And they are exercising the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press upon which this country is built.
Not being privy to what goes on during daily conferences to determine what news gets in print or on the air, I cannot speak to what editors and programmers at the national news outfits are thinking when they make their decisions. But I don’t think they start the day with plans to deceive the public at large, manufacture news or turn the country against them, despite what others may believe. And if journalists at these organizations are the “enemy” of all we hold dear about the good old U.S.A., why would they want to subvert the very liberty that allows them to do their jobs without the heavy hand of government control? On the local level, lack of a free press would prohibit or severely limit the exemplary coverage of such events from last week as the state budget meeting in Pomeroy and the Gallipolis City Commission discussion about the community’s future. In fact, without the other rights we hold sacred, these meetings would never have occurred.
I can only approach this issue surrounding the news media from my own experience in small-town newspapers. I came to realize over nearly 30 years some things I wrote would arouse somebody’s ire, but again, despite what got back to me, I was not pushing an agenda, trying to get someone fired (or hired) or seeking to create enemies. Actually, the larger and more personal goal was to get through the day without fielding complaints or angry comments. That occasionally happened, but the rumblings were heard often enough to inform me that when seeking and reporting the truth about local crime or public affairs, someone was questioning not only my veracity but my motives in reporting what I did.
While studying at Ohio University’s College of Communications in the late 1970s, I and my fellow aspiring journalists had it drilled into us that when covering an issue in a more in-depth manner, always get it right, and get both sides of the story. Let the chips fall where they may if the final product yielded an outcry. I tried to live up to that principle. I believe most journalists still follow that precept of good, responsible journalism. I think the public still demands such balance. Yet, reporting both sides of the issue has suffered some erosion in recent times, a situation veteran ABC News correspondent Ted Koppel famously lamented about a decade ago, and for which some so-called experts took him to task for being old school. That kind of criticism startled me. Since when did arriving at some level of equilibrium in news coverage become a thing of the past, like production of the Plymouth and Pontiac?
All-day news offers a platform for differing views to be heard, some of them pretty extreme. The rise of the Internet has prompted an explosion of sites where people can access news, some legitimate and others tainted with the owners’ particular bias. This has led to excesses from both sides of the political aisle that have fueled the divisions wracking our country. The real “enemy” we face are those individuals — on both sides and from more shady sources — who spew their bile under the guise of “news.” Unsurprisingly, truth or something like it gets trampled in the melee that follows.
In discussing how reaching the truth is the shared goal of the both the legal system and the press, noted U.S. Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston observed that “a free and self-governing society’s most basic interests are served.” That statement’s own truth is as valid today as it was when first expressed in Denniston’s 1980 study “The Reporter and the Law.”
That’s where we, as consumers of local or national coverage, must be vigilant and aware of what we see, hear and read. In other words, maintain a healthy skepticism, but don’t be so dismissive of the mainstream media. Journalists in southern Ohio and in West Virginia have their mission down by reporting fairly and allowing the public to decide. And despite the bad rep the national news media is getting, they are doing the same. They remain our most visible and direct source of reliable information, and we hope and look for them to continue with that mission.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.