People from all over the world are pulled by magnet-like forces to the epicenter of modern civilization: New York City. A hub for all that we recognize as a symbol of new-age consumerism and society, New York is truly a majestic enterprise; an energetic container where insight lurks around every corner.I recently traveled to that very city, to attend an annual journalism conference with a group of Castleton State College students (and fellow journalists for The Spartan, our student newspaper). The conference is held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, and offers three days of sessions, during which professionals at the top of their fields speak to us about their experiences and provide us with advice for our future careers.
At two separate occasions during the conference, a “Keynote” speaker addresses a large number of students. This year, the keynote address I attended was given by Terry Moran, co-anchor of ABC News’ “Nightline.” His speech was followed by a lengthy question and answer session. I stood in line, delicately crafting my question, anxious to hear his thoughts. A man from the front announced that there would be time for one more question — and it would be mine. I had noticed the wide variety of very individualized questions that had been asked prior to mine, and I wanted to mix things up; get down to business, so to speak.
I took a deep breath, and asked, “In a world where it seems Sarah Palin’s glasses rouse more interest than Nobel Prize winners or intellectual genius, how can we as journalists help to shift our collective consciousness back to more important issues?” He looked on, as I sat down amidst my group again.
He began to tell a story — to sum it up to it’s moral value, he stated that even in superficial, seemingly unimportant stories he’s assigned to report on, he can almost always learn something, or take something positive away from it. Good answer, but not to the question I’d asked.
He’d directed his answer to the ‘dependent’ journalist — as in, a journalist who does not choose his own topics to report on, but rather, answers to a larger network or corporation. I’d asked my question from the standpoint of an ‘independent’ journalist — one who chooses her own topics based on what she feels is important, both in her own conscience and for those who her news coverage immediately affects. My question had been directly aimed at changing the actual content of mediocre and harmful news; clipping it at its source and re-modeling the world of media as we know it, from a critical journalistic angle.
Granted, I understand that his hands are tied — he works for a network corporation. He doesn’t get to choose what news he reports on. But, he did choose to not have a choice.
The example I’d given in my question (about Sarah Palin and her ‘stylish’ glasses) was one I’d witnessed mere months ago. Fox News had a half hour segment dedicated solely to discussing the widespread excitement about the former-nominee’s choice in eyewear. I understand that people like fashion — but on a ‘hard’ news channel? The aspect of the segment which upset me the most, was the anchors’ banter and conversational tone regarding Palin’s glasses — they were responding excitedly to emails, texts, and phone calls about the topic — and passing it off as ‘news.’
My question still stands. How can we as journalists ward off the pressing non-newsworthy content which it seems society and the media are eating right up? Why is money and fashion at the forefront of our minds, when we should be resting more importance on the moral value of the media and its positive effects on the people viewing it? If I were to answer my own question, I would say that a lot of the problem has to do with big networks and corporations being in charge of the ‘news’ that we come into contact with. As much as we’d like to believe that ABC, NBC and FOX news are separate entities with different stances, they are all tied together by similar ideas — it’s how the ideas are regurgitated into news that they differ.
As journalists, what should our goals consist of? Should we aim to join a network and take on the network’s voice as our own? Granted, this would insure us personal and financial security. Or, should we fight long and hard to become independent journalists who raise awareness about the content we feel is important to the masses, but in turn have to contend with a minimal paycheck and a vast number of oppressors?
How do we shift consciousness as a whole? How do we as journalists get the audience to care about something more than a silly pair of glasses? How do we get people to pay attention to the intellectual insights of our generation versus the hot, young, new celebrities? When will people start to want quality versus quantity?
Walking down the street in the City, I couldn’t help but notice all the faces of passers-by aimed at the ground, hands in pockets, and designer handbags and briefcases on arm. These people seemed to be tuning out — avoiding making a stir, going with the flow, and successfully blending in. Has this very image become the mask of the media too?
If all of these people in the city are willing to “go with the flow,” why can’t we direct that flow to a positive place? As journalists, we’ve become the dam-builders. Not everyone has the desire to affect others, and are therefore somewhat willing to allow their perspectives to be undermined. Everyday, my sense of responsibility grows stronger — to eradicate the stereotypes and ill-perpetuations of our modern existence, and instead aim to raise thought-provoking insight into how we might lead more sustainable lives; a shift that comes from within.
It might do a New Yorker some good to take a trip to Vermont, spend a weekend at a cabin in the woods, and practice some introversion. The change begins when one realizes, that what’s going on inside is important enough to be shared on the outside. You can’t tell mainstream media networks to do that — I have a feeling it would be lost on the grid.