Friday, September 09, 2005

Hurricane of harassment

Over the last few days I've had it up to my receding hairline with broadcast media. On the one hand, they were actually helpful in exposing the ineptness of local, state and federal government during the New Orleans hurricane. On the other hand, they (the reporters) love to magnify every little flea found bouncing on the backs of every mange cat.

What really has me bugged is the transition from being a news reporter to becoming a news predictor. It's been these predictions or assumptions that have created the fleas much less magnify them. When reporters insist on making predictions or assumptions, they then begin playing a part in creating more news rather than possibly allowing life to take it's natural course.

A perfect example of this takes me back to the presidential election that was contested and decided by the polls in the great state of Florida. Had the broadcast media simply stuck to reporting rather than predicting, we may not have had to spend the next two years watching one-hour specials on how faulty our voting system is in America. I think I'd rather have seen one-hour specials on how narcissistic our news personalities have become.

When the only thing that matters is whether or not you've got the first scoop - as often heard by reporters who say, "I believe we were the first to predict the outcome of this", then we've gone far past the original purpose of news reporting and become star gazing gypsies sitting around a crystal ball.

I remember when reporters said it would be a hundred years before Yellowstone National Park would recover from the devastating fire of 1988 which burned 1.6 million acres. It wasn't so. Today, you can drive through many of those areas and not even know they were destroyed by the fire. In fact, it is a forest that was cleansed by the fire. God's way of taking care of His earth.

The purveyors of predictions rather than news thought the Mall of America would never succeed. We're too far north here in Minneapolis, MN. Not a large enough market to support the country's largest indoor amusement park and shopping mall. Today, the Mall of America has more visitors annually than Disney World, the Grand Canyon, and Graceland combined. On average, a 747 jet full of foreigners lands in Minneapolis on a daily basis with the specific goal of shopping til they drop. With over 500 stores and floor space that would fill 78 football fields, they'll drop before they know it. Soon the expansion of the mall will make the original size seem small.

Over the last week, our beloved news networks of blathering ninnies have done well to further damage the people of New Orleans. What the storm couldn't do physically, the reporters have managed to do psychologically. It's bad enough people's homes, neighborhoods and cities were destroyed but now we have footage of black kids wading chest high in water carrying bags and a reporter assuming or predicting that these kids are looting a grocery store while another network broadcasts a shot of a white couple looking for food to survive on. Neither reporter had actually gotten out of their helicopter to question people or to actually witness where the food came from. And why were the black kids looters and the white couple were simply survivors? Why would reporters unleash their own hurricane of harassment on a city that was still looking for survivors? I believe they begin to do more damage when they don't stop themselves from whipping out their crystal balls.

It appears to me that news rooms across the country are full of stand-up meetings around a stale pot of day old coffee where the dialogue goes something like this. "We need to find someone whose views are critical of blah blah blah." Or, "Where can we find an expert at the local university who will substantiate these suppositions?" I wouldn't say this if I didn't know it to be true. It's making the news rather than reporting it and allowing the public to draw their own conclusions.

A week ago they did well to report the price of gas accurately selling for $3-$6 a gallon across the country. However, they then had to "go find" an expert to predict. Every network without exception was boldly proclaiming they could predict gas prices will NOT be going down anytime soon and we could expect $4 a gallon very soon. For the last four days, I've driven by gas stations with prices staying at $2.79 a gallon and it's probably going to go down more. However, be it far from me to be an "expert" on predictions.

It used to be that news was researched and then reported. Now, in the age of 24-hour coverage, we've transitioned to becoming a part of the research process. In an effort to fill time, we are bored beyond tears while being expected to watch every reporter flying around the United States and the world interviewing people with predictions. The problem with that is, I don't want to be a part of the research, I just want the facts after you've collected them. I don't want to see little miss "short skirt and lipstick" holding a microphone and asking her stupid questions. If I want to listen to stupid questions I'll watch the Washington press Corp on CSPAN. I simply don't believe the majority of Americans want to spend a half hour of their time watching "how" the media did their research or collected their "expert opinions." If you want a great example of what a news report should consist of, watch The Newshour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. There's a reason that show consistently wins awards.

In conclusion of this rambling jabberwocky, I have a suggestion for our news media. If I could change them forever, I'd insist every one of them intern for one year in North Korea, Cuba, or China. To spend one year in a communist run country where news is truly restricted to a national opinion, I believe would forever change their approach to reporting. I believe reporters would be very different when they came back to the United States in that they'd be much less careless in reporting and much more respectful with the use of the precious gift of freedom of speech. Hopefully they'd stop harassing us with doom and gloom suppositions or predictions of high gas prices, destroyed forests and colossal shopping malls. Maybe they'd start producing solid truthful information that we used to call news. Maybe they'd keep us from having to endure their research so we could atually get some news.