Recent thoughts on journalism, part 2

Part of what has inspired my recent reflections on how and where we get information is a developing news story that involves someone I vaguely know. Without going into details, I will say that the story is a sad one, and unfortunately there are many questions that we won’t get the answers to anytime soon, if ever. But even being two or three degrees removed, I have enough of an “insider’s” perspective to know that the media coverage can’t be taken at face value. Skewed wording, contradictory reporting, and flat-out misinformation. Each individual error is relatively small and forgivable — some are even well-intentioned — but added up they paint a worrisome picture.

It reminds me that we, the general public, cannot be content to believe everything that we read or hear. We must remember to take things with a grain salt, and ask questions when things don’t make sense.

It reminds me just how dependent we are on these news outlets* — whether printed on paper, broadcast on TV, or transmitted online. This relationship hinges on trust, on mutual respect for the journalistic process and integrity. Fragile things that work until they don’t, easily taken for granted or abused.

It reminds me of another time that I was close to a controversial news story. Much, much closer than I am now. Zero degrees removed. The story of my senior year of high school is a long one (probably a novel someday, no joke) but despite the nearly ten years that have passed since then, I can still recall with vivid emotional clarity how frustrating it was to have one’s own life publicly misrepresented, manipulated, mangled. How small and powerless I felt, yet ironically standing in a spotlight, trapped under a microscope.

And it reminds me most of all of our common humanity. How fallible, and how noble, people can be. How much we’re capable of doing, both ugly and beautiful. How we often come together when something threatens to tear us apart. How we are driven by a need for justice and truth, though we are sometimes blinded by (or blind to) those very things.

*”Common man reporting” via Twitter, blogs, etc., can provide a sort of check-and-balance on traditional news outlets. People “on the ground” can instantly broadcast their mobile photos and eye-witness accounts — and even more valuable than any one individual’s testimony is the conglomeration of them all. Facts emerge as patterns.

But just as easily as information is spread, so is misinformation. People jump to conclusions, often without the background knowledge needed to make them in the first place. And like a bad game of Telephone, things usually become more distorted with each transmission.

So democratized journalism is no more foolproof than the traditional kind. Everything above still applies.

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7 Comments

  1. Juliann

    All very true.

    And I’m dying to know about your high school experience. Write the book!

  2. Once a story gets out to the public, it has a tendency to take on a crazy, unpredictable life of its own.

    An external developer has been credited with the entirety of the last game I shipped. This external developer helped with one small part of the game, but the entire client, design, production, audio, etc. was done by an in-house Microsoft team.

    But once the story got out that this external developer did the whole thing, it was impossible to correct it. What do we do? If we say anything, we’re “Big Bad Microsoft Bullying The Little Guy.” So unfortunately we’ve just let it go. We’ll be doing developer blogs and what not, so maybe people will figure it out, but sometimes the news gets away from you and all you can do is ride the waves and pray for the best.

  3. Juliann-
    Lol I will! Apologies in advance for the tease/wait.

    Ben-
    Ugh that’s so frustrating. And I know the general tendency is to say, “Whatever, Microsoft is a big company, it can handle not getting its full due,” but this is a good reminder that individual people like you are behind every big company and every project. People whose hard work deserves rightful credit.

    “Sometimes the news gets away from you and all you can do is ride the waves and pray for the best.” – Very true, unfortunately.

  4. Jon

    Agreed. It usually takes at least a few news stories for me to get a grasp on a story I care about. Good on your father for caring about and carrying on in print journalism. I have always trusted print far more than any online or television sources.

  5. This is a great reminder not to believe everything we hear on TV news. It would be an even better reminder if you would give us some specific examples like, um, WHAT happened in high school? You can’t make us wait until the book is done! No fair! We deserve a magazine article at least. Or a blog post. PLEASE?

  6. Yes. And all of this was so evident with the Boston bombing.

  7. Jon-
    Well, I’m just there are plenty of reasons to distrust print journalism too… Haha. But the focus is different. (Also, I think smaller papers are probably more trustworthy than big ones — just a personal theory — because trust me, they’re not in it for the money.)

    Meghan-
    Lol sorry! It’s too long, complicated, and emotional of a story to tackle in a blog… Maybe a personal essay. Maybe someday.

    Nina-
    OH YES. I couldn’t believe how timely. But I didn’t want to mention my own blog posts in relation to that, because, you know, ick.

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