Engagement and Relevance

3 Apr

“Journalism is storytelling with a purpose. That purpose is to provide people with information they need to understand the world…[and] to make it meaningful, relevant and engaging.” -Elements of Journalism pg. 189

I’m going to start off by saying, that I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic, so just brace yourself for that. This issue of engagement and relevance in journalism has been seriously misconstrued in the media lately, and it has been seriously ticking me off. Should we make important issues interesting and keep our audience engaged so that they will actually listen? Yes. I mean after all, we are, in essence, storytellers. It makes sense that we should be engaging audiences through the stories of the people, the community, the government and so on, but it doesn’t mean we have to pander to the public and become something we are not. We are not entertainers. We are journalists. There is absolutely a way to make important news engaging and interesting without it becoming sensational, yellow journalism. Generally, if it doesn’t look or feel like journalism, it probably isn’t.

Take this lovely example from KSL that I had the misfortune to come across last week on the evening news. I won’t set it up too much…I’ll just allow you to watch it and perhaps your eyes will bleed like mine did. I’ll just say that it’s supposed to be a story on teacher’s impact on the legislature, but what it actually ends up being is something that doesn’t even resemble news.

Click here to watch the video.

You guys…what does “The Voice” have to do with teacher’s lobbying for more money in classrooms?? Sure, you can spin it all you want and say…well it works because the teachers have a “voice” with lawmakers. Right. But one of them has to do with policy and the other is a SINGING competition. I was apalled by this newscast. It takes what is actually an important issue that is revlevant to a lot of people and turns it into a marketing spot for NBC…of which KSL is a subsidiary station. My very favorite part is at 1:34 when they actually crop the reporter into an episode of “The Voice” and pretend like they’re still giving the news. I mean really, that’s something Jay Leno would do.

I definitely think a line was crossed here. Not only did they shamelessly advertise for NBC on the news, but they failed the public and the people they were covering. They made the story a bit of a joke and completely overshadowed the importance of the story…a story that affects children across the state and would be a great concern to parents, teachers, church leaders (etc.).  I’m not arguing that we need to be bland in our reporting. I just think we need to understand that to be engaging does not mean we need to “tabloidicize” ourselves.

We talked a lot in class about “infotainment”–a word which the journalist in me finds dirty beyond measure. I’m sorry, but this type of programming is not journalism. I repeat. Infotainment is NOT journalism. You may think me a news snob for saying such a thing, but it is so true. The interview Barbara Walters did with Monica Lewinsky made me seriously ill. As a self professed journalist, the questions she asked were truly despicable. Honestly…does anyone need or want to know whether Bill Clinton is a “sensual” man? I was disgusted. Not only that, but my mind suddenly went to Hillary and her kids and the pain that interview must have caused them. Is that our mission in life as journalists? Do we set out to find sensational and edgy news for the sole purpose of entertainment, and at any cost? I would submit that it is not. We’re supposed to be a voice for the voiceless and work to help the people. They expect us to inform them, not entertain them.

I’ve used this quote before, but it is clearly illustrates the way that I feel. It’s from a speech that Bill Kovach gave in 2000, and is probably much truer today than when he said it. The whole speech is really good so you should click on this link to read it, but my favorite part is when he says,

“Recent polls in the United States which show a public increasingly frustrated and alienated by “the news media” have made this point with depressing force.… The reason for this loss of confidence in the press…is that the public can no longer distinguish between a journalist attempting to produce a disinterested, balanced presentation from a self-serving political line or tabloid sleaze.…”

So I would like to leave you with a clip from the king of infotainment, a man whom I actually admire and respect…Mr. Jon Stewart. Let me just tell you quickly why I admire him. While clearly a liberal talk show host, Jon Stewart is pretty fair in his criticism of government, and even more so of the media. He  knows what he is. He embraces the fact that he is a comedian and an entertainer first and a news giver second, and that puts him in a perfect position to call so called journalists (such as the one in this clip) on their crap. I apologize…there’s a bit of language in this clip (it’s bleeped, but doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination), but I think it really illustrates how there are journalists now that think they can get away with just about anything if it makes a profit. Calling someone a “terrorist” when you are, at the same time, calling for greater civil discourse means one of two things. Either you are a hypocrite, or you just think sensationalized news sells better. Both are likely possibilities. So anyway…enjoy this Daily Show clip and the fact that we are done with blogs for the semester!

Watch the clip here. :)


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