OT? I don't think so

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

On innumerable occasions, the media is blasted (usually justified) in this forum. Yesterday this wire piece by Bob Greene of Tribune Media Service does a credible job of explaining what has gone wrong with reporting. The connection to Y2K, I think, is the considerable shift in journalistic morality and integrity that has occurred.

THE REAL NEWS IS THAT THE GATES ARE UNTENDED By Bob Greene Tribune Media Services Fairborn, Ohio--There is a growing dissatisfaction in the world--even anger--about how news organizations do their jobs.

When readers and viewers become upset about the news that is delivered to them, various words are often heard: sensationalism, sleaziness, sloppiness, innacuracy, insensitivity.

One phrase that is seldom heard, though, is the one that best sums up what has gone awry in the news business. It is the concept that used to be taught to fledgling newsmen and newswomen.

The gatekeeper function.

The gatekeeper function is--or was--just what it sounds like. And its rapid disappearance may have much to do with why people are troubled by news coverage.

The people who run newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets are supposed to do more than make assignments, edit copy and lay out pages. They are--or were--supposed to act as gatekeepers: the last stop between the news that happens during a day, and the news accounts that are delivered to the readers, viewers or listeners.

The idea is--or was--that editors are professionals who bring a high degree of experience and perspective to the newsroom with them each day. The news that actually happens in the world is confusing, violent, ugly, contradictory, frantic, loud and ceaseless.

What editors--both print and broadcast--were entrusted to do came down to a simple yet vital concept: They were supposed to stand at the gate and make measured decisions about what parts of the day's news, and how much of it, got through the gate, worthy of being digested, packaged and passed on to the people who read or watched the finished product.

There was that all-important distinction: The news was one thing, the news product was something else. The news was unfiltered and chaotic--the news consisted of events, events that few people outside a newsroom would ever observe. The news product, on the other hand--the paper, the broadcast--was filtered.

And still is, in many cases. But the biggest change in the news busines--and thus, in the way people see the worl--is that in many other cases, the gates have swung wide open, the gatekeepers have been eliminated. The free flow of information--a concept all journalists embrace--has become much more than a free flow. It's a daily flood that never stops, that keeps gathering strength. Gatekeepers? When they try to do their jobs, they are often swept away.

Whether through the worldwide computer network, live and unedited TV coverage of events ranging from high-speed expressway chases to the tragedy in Colorado last week, radio talk show with no rules and no screeners, cable TV channels that are able to devote weeks and months to a single lurid subject--that free flow of information has never been freer.

And it's everywhere. The days of waiting for dinnertime to find out what CBS or NBC or ABC considers to be the most significant occurrences since morning, the days of waiting for the paperboy to deliver the athoritative account of the last 24 hours, are like museum memories.

Today you can have whatever you want, any time, from a dizzying menu of outlets. It lloks like news, it smells like news--yet why, in this era of so many information sources, are so many citizens dissatisfied?

Perhaps because the gatekeepers have departed--and even if the readers viewers and listeners have never heard of the gatekeeper function, they are on some level aware that it is disappearing, and are dismayed at the results.

The gatekeepers--the best ones--were not censors. They weren't trying to deprive the readers and viewers of anything. Instead, they attempted to bring order, sense and civility to the news product. They made an effort to make the news product people allowed into their homes a welcome, coherent and well-mannered visitor.

Quaint? Old-fashioned?

Apparently so, because with the gatekeepers in retreat (it's hard to be a responsible gatekeeper when, all around you, the other gates have been ripped off their hinges), the news products that enter people's homes are often rude, vulgar, disoriented, rambling, bellicose, rumor-mongering, intent on staying long past their welcome...

And this is in today's world, where many news gates are still intact. Come back and take a look at the news in 20 years, when the gatekeepers, and what they stood for, are all but extinct.

-- Vic (Rdrunneris@compliant.com), May 05, 1999


Hhhmm, well, the stuff I find most informative and rivetting are the "raw unedited footage" rolls we see on Breaking News. I for one much prefer the actual version as is before the spinning begins its sugar-down.
My delete/off/change/back finger is still functional & operative ;^)

Hi there, Vic, nice to see the Forum back online before midnight with that upgrade downtime!

xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx

-- Leska (allaha@earthlink.net), May 05, 1999.

Vic, I think Mr. Greene missed a major point in his essay. It may well be that the gatekeepers are no longer to be found, but someone is still filtering. Just look at how many stories show up in alternative news places that take the major media months or years to report. Most every aspect of news reflects someone's bias. The choice of interviews, the way questions are worded, the way answers are edited, the camera angles, where is the story positioned, etc. In my opinion, it's just that today's spin and bias has never been so easy to spot before and it has never been so out of sync with John/Jane Doe before.

If the seasoned, well-intended gatekeeper is not around, the question is who is doing the filtering now? And why?

-- David (David@BankPacman.com), May 05, 1999.

I think we should differentiate between gatekeeper and manipulator. The gatekeeper's job was, as the article indicated, to provide that filter for the benefit of the reader, viewer, listener, with political stance irrelevant. It may be hard for some of you to believe, but there still are journalists about who believe the news should be unbiased regardless of their own position. Not many, I'll grant you. Your reference, David, is to people not worthy of the journalism moniker. In the final analysis, however, Howard Stern and Jerry Springer and others of that ilk would not be on the air were it not for viewers and listeners in sufficient numbers to satisfy sponsors and network bigshots.

-- Vic (Rdrunneris@compliant.com), May 05, 1999.


Have appreciated Bob Greene's work for many years. His book about being a new dad, Good Morning, Merry Sunshine, is a gem.

-- Mac (sneak@lurk.hid), May 05, 1999.

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