Anthea Stratigos – January 24, 2017
Let me start this out with the proviso that I don’t like to use phrases like “the media.” It paints an entire set of professionals and businesses with a single brush stroke, and the space is much too nuanced for this. Yet, day in and day out, we’re struck by the hyperbole about “the media,” and it’s getting worse, especially when the Meryl Streep’s of the world stand up and say, the media is under assault … or, our President-elect tweets about the evils of “the media.”
Stereotypes, at a certain level, are helpful guideposts. There is some truth in them, but not “the truth.” When we use them to paint solid pictures to describe a phenomenon, it’s not helpful. Chances are, it’ll get us into more trouble than not, because nuance, distinctions, and critical thinking goes out the window. Especially now.
So I’m not going to write about “the media.” What I am going to write about is my local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle and how dismayed I am about their recent coverage. You see, I grew up thinking journalists report, that tabloid journalism was meant for a certain category of press but not mainstream press. I grew up with the notion that the fourth estate went after the facts — unless you were on the op-ed page. And as an analyst covering the media, my expectations for these standards remain high. I’ve written earlier posts about the hubris of one of its reporters. I’ve written that I partake in a balanced news diet — some left, some right, some online, some print, some blogs, some journalists. But right about now, I’m about to go on a news cleanse, take it out of my routine for a while, maybe forever, and trust that what I need to know will find its way to me.
One of Outsell’s top analysts says the news industry is dead. Between Facebook, the debacle of election coverage and fake news, it’s gotten pretty darn bleak. In reviewing this post, Outsell’s Chief Analyst, Leigh Watson Healy says the country, right now, reminds her of letters she is blessed to be in possession of — family correspondence dating back to the Civil War where her ancestors were on opposing sides of the war. She says the vitriol and divisions that are in place today remind her of the sentiment in those letters — heartbreak over the division, staunch commitment to the cause, sadness over losses, confusion over where it’s going. Never has she, or we, seen our country so divided. In a time of need, to rise above the anger and try to repair what’s broken, leading papers like the SF Chronicle are in the middle, adding to the agita and breaking their role and our trust in the process instead of staying neutral and fact-based. Properties like the SF Chronicle are broken and it’s a sad day for our society.
What I’ve been noticing in my local paper is outright bias. Is this paper (note I’m not saying “the media”) doing its job? My local paper has been lowering its standards, and it makes me ill. Front page headlines like: “State Girds for Trump Presidency” or in the food section no less, “Sunset Grocery to shut on Inauguration Day in protest.” Since when is this news? Who is writing about the zillions of stores staying open? In the op-ed section — it is in rarefied air that anything remotely positive about Trump is written, but “Heed 15 Warning Signs A Tyrant is Taking Over” goes too far. Myriad articles talk about Obama’s legacy, especially in respect to monuments and national parks which he has done an amazing job with. But not multiple times on the same day and not when the incoming President is consistently under attack. The SF Chronicle does not speak for all of California. It doesn’t speak for the entire Bay Area. Its job is to report — not lead with headlines that inspire distrust and fear. It’s not the press’s job. Yes, we could say the press has been fear mongering for years. It’s what sells. But when it comes time to respect our most prestigious office our local press needs more balance. There is good and bad in everything and one can find something to appreciate even in an enemy.
One thing my grandfather and father taught me was how to lose. I would like to see our local media figure out how to do same and not use their mantle to spread bias and then behave indignantly when someone challenges them about it. I am going to start counting articles in my local paper, and if last week’s was any indication, the bias must stop. It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. It puts the SF Chronicle in a bad light, and then someone, somewhere gets mad and starts railing against “the media,” and the whole sector takes a hit. During the election, I saw subtle and not so subtle bias, a lot. Certain media outlets got called on the carpet and then squealed when someone got upset. It’s time for every media outlet to bring back old-fashioned rules about journalistic factual reporting because it’s never too late to go back to high standards, even when the New York Times posts this week that it is cutting back on editors. Ok fine, but please, don’t cut back on ethics. We need a positive balanced press more than ever, and I fear it’s broken for good.