Five cardinal rules

The Lorena Bobbitt story hit media outlets in 1993. You remember Lorena. A victim of domestic abuse, she took revenge by cutting off her husband’s, well, use a search engine if you don’t know the rest of the story.

The Bobbitt news hit airwaves as Gary drove our first-grade daughter Jordan to school.

“Daddy,” said Jordan, “what are they talking about?”

Gary hit the off button and said, “Don’t believe everything you hear on the radio.”

My husband’s statement proved prophetic. Though that morning’s story was fact, not believing everything reported by media outlets became all too true.

I majored in English with a broadcast minor. The five cardinal rules of journalism are tattooed on my soul.

1)    Truth & Accuracy: Get the facts right, and when information cannot be verified, say so.

2)    Independence: Be an independent voice. Don’t speak on behalf of personal interests (political, cultural, or corporate). Inform editors of any conflicts of interest.

3)    Fairness & Impartiality: There are two sides to more stories than not. Reports should be balanced using objective and unbiased coverage.

4)    Humanity: Journalists should not harm. When hurtful news is reported, journalists should be mindful of the impact their words and images have on others.

5)    Accountability: Journalists must be professional and responsible to themselves and their audience by admitting mistakes/errors in reporting.

Journalism students are taught to restrict their opinions to editorials and personal columns. At least that’s what I learned. Yet, many cable news outlets blatantly reject the very rules that once made journalism honorable. One-sided attacks – not to be confused with reporting – that target individuals and groups have become the norm.

Today’s audience doesn’t know who or what to believe. Many outlets leave news that does not fit their political slant on the cutting room floor. Instead of fair, balanced, and humane reporting, today’s media often breeds fear, i.e. viewers hear negative COVID stories, but not testimonies of success or tips on how to build immunity.

How did this happen? Mainstream media’s slide began soon after Lorena Bobbitt’s story broke. That’s my theory.

In June 1994, viewers across America sat in front of their televisions watching police pursue O. J. Simpson. That moment in history set the stage for 24/7 news.

Ninety-five million viewers watched O. J. drive around for hours. More tuned-in for the 134-day trial. In those numbers, someone saw an opportunity. Round-the-clock news meant round-the-clock advertising which, of course, translated into big bucks.

Is there enough viable news to fill airwaves 24-hours a day? The fact that “big” stories are flung at us hour after hour, day after day until the next “big” story comes along speaks a resounding “No.”

My theory contends that, while attempting to fill in the gaps, exaggeration crept into reporting. When the powers that be were not held accountable for overstepping, opinion found its way into news stories with bias and manipulation not far behind.

Mainstream media is a powerful tool. It was meant to be an instrument that provided true and fact-based news. But it can also choose to advocate unity or division; calm or terror; balance or favoritism.

I no longer watch what I no longer trust, and I’m not alone. The positive in the negative is that the growing lack of trust in mainstream media could revive newspapers across the nation. I’m not talking about big business operations like The Washington Post. By the way, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns the Post, one of the few to benefit from lockdowns.

I go to local newspapers in various cities and towns for balanced reporting. Smaller operations continue to reserve opinions for editorials and columns and print more than one school of thought.

I appreciate papers that ask and report what residents think about current issues. And you can bet those residents help keep local reporters accountable. The same can be done with cable news outlets – if we stop watching.

Bigger is not better when it comes to balanced reporting. Mainstream media has, in the words of my Aunt Marg, “become too big for its breeches” or maybe its microphones.

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VievesVine View All →

writer, blogger, columnist

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