"A community needs news for the same reason that a man needs eyes," said British journalist Dame Rebecca West. "It has to see where it is going." On most days, however, I don’t want to go where the news says we’re going.
Any day we might be going to war or over the fiscal cliff; or we’re getting fatter and unhealthier. The rich are richer and the poor, poorer and more numerous.
Other nations best our students in critical subjects. Our bridges are crumbling and threaten millions of travelers. Natural disasters destroy lives, homes, jobs and wildlife. Personal health and financial information can be hacked or released to the public. Global warming tests our survival.
The "news" makes you want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. News isn’t "good" news, says my husband, Bob Furnad, a 40-year-veteran of the television industry. "News is when something doesn’t work, when something’s not right, not when everything goes as planned or expected."
You’ve heard this line about news, television in particular: "If it bleeds, it leads." Stations that emphasize "good" news trail stations that lead with scandal and gore.
The line begs the question: Does the news reflect what we really want to know or see, or is it something dished up and force-fed to us?
I recall fondly when we’d settle in front of the television and wait for Walter Cronkite to come on and tell us what we needed to know.
He was called the most trusted man in America in his day. He was our conscience when it came to issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate. He held our collective hand through the dark days after President John F. Kennedy was murdered.
He had a calming effect, in stark contrast to the often overheated and hyperventilating news presenters in today’s widely splintered news universe. No single source for news captures our attention like Cronkite did.
We like to shoot the messenger that brings us "the news." I know many people who don’t watch television news anymore. I know many who don’t take a daily newspaper. I know plenty who cherry-pick among purveyors who tell them only what they believe and want to know.
Observers suggest that without a unified source for news content and, thereby, understanding of the issues we face, society is in peril.
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is a font of respected and credible polling and analysis of media trends. A report dated Aug. 6 this year said: "The press receives broadly negative ratings from the public on core performance measures. Two-thirds (67%) say that news reports are often inaccurate, and even greater percentages say that news organizations tend to favor one side (76%) and are often influenced by powerful people and organizations (75%).
Ratings of news organizations have declined steadily since Pew Research first began tracking attitudes in 1985, and many current ratings stand near all-time lows reached in 2011."
The same report said some 50 percent of us get most national and international news from the Internet, but television is still the primary source for news (69 percent).
Only 28 percent say newspapers are their primary source, and for radio, only 23 percent.
The report continued: "Another recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that just 28% say journalists contribute ‘a lot’ to society’s well-being, down from 38% in 2009." Far more hold the military, teachers and doctors in higher regard.
But in this report, there’s a quite interesting — and heartening, to some — rebuttal to the low standings of the media in general.
"By more than three-to-one, the public says that news organizations’ criticism of political leaders keeps them from doing things that should not be done (68%), rather than keeping leaders from doing their job (21%). In addition, more say that news organizations protect (48%) rather than hurt (35%) democracy. In 2011, … Americans were 10 points less likely to view the press as an effective watchdog."
Pew finds the newly enhanced views of the media’s role across most demographic components, including Republicans, Democrats and independents.
"Young people, in particular, have become much more likely to say the press prevents misbehavior by political leaders."
In the case of the scandals that define and dog our governor’s public "service" — in Congress or under the Gold Dome — the press, to date, can’t be said to have prevented much of his well-chronicled and questionable behavior.
However, it’s safe to say it isn’t going to relent in its coverage of his role in allegedly altering the outcome of an investigation into his campaign by the former State Ethics Commission.
Ironically, "ethics" is no longer included in the name of the recently re-christened Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.