By 'Average' Joe Yates
Our small community is losing the publisher of its weekly paper and I, for one, think it’s a big loss. That, and because a recent column in which I blamed local TV news for taking the kids from our streets is fresh in my mind, has caused me to reflect on the state of today’s media.
Those of us who are of a certain age may recall when the Binghams owned the Courier-Journal, and how much we trusted what was within its pages. Louisville may not have been the teeming metropolis it once was many years ago, but when I was younger, the daily paper was highly regarded; it was not uncommon for it to be mentioned in the same breath as the country’s most respected newspapers. We could also sit comfortably in our living rooms with Uncle Walter’s solid countenance flickering on the black and white screen, and have no doubt he was telling us the truth.
What happened over the last three or four decades? Not only have we witnessed the dumbing down of political issues and the expansion of ‘entertainment news,’ we see agenda-driven programming that passes for ‘news’ everywhere. Naturally, the blame lies with the almighty dollar. As long as the news division makes money, who cares about facts?
A few years ago, Jon Stewart, the host of TV’s popular The Daily Show appeared on the old CNN Crossfire program. Crossfire’s shtick was to tee up a couple of pundits from opposite political spectrums and get them to yell loudly at each other. Not very informative, but fun—kinda like big time wrasslin’. Nevertheless, the Crossfire hosts—seriously—chastised Stewart for his show not being ‘substantive’ enough. Ignoring their smug admonitions, he turned the tables by reminding them that his program was actually a comedy, “You’re on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making prank phone calls.” He continued, “What you do is not honest…[it] is partisan hackery...you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.” Mr. Stewart, in a later interview went on to say that news organizations are not necessarily evil, they just toe the corporate line: make that money. “The bias of the mainstream media is not relentlessly partisan, it is biased towards sensationalism, conflict and laziness.”
The reason we have so many televised shouting matches? Don’t we all slow down to ogle the car wreck? In the last presidential election, do you remember much about the candidates’ positions? Do you recall any worthy discussion of important issues? The modern political TV ‘debate’ where candidates take turns delivering snippets of their stump speeches are not real debates.
Big money also explains the enormous amount of fluff in the news. Look, I’d like to know when a new heir to the throne is born, or when a beloved celebrity passes away, but why, dear Lord, why do I have to know what a Kardashian is?
If it was just a matter of faux political debates or Justin Bieber’s latest tattoo, I might be able to just shrug, set the radio dial to NPR, make sure the DVR catches the Bill Moyers program and get on with it. But some of what passes for ‘news’ today is just flat out misleading—folks are told what they want to hear without regard for the facts. Did you know that there are actually people who blame the president for the government shutdown? This agenda-driven ‘news’ thing might actually make for a good column or three.
While respect for the national print and broadcast media has diminished over the past years, our local news has been delivered to us with perspective and integrity, and we should be thankful. Earlier this year, our paper, through its publisher, took the Eminence City Council and its mayor to task for the less than honest shenanigans surrounding the CVS debacle. Just last week, in a soundly written editorial, it did not hesitate to poke Pleasureville in the eye. In both pieces, our publisher nailed it.
I will miss Jonna because she is smart, funny and a friend. Our tiny corner of the world will miss her because she was not afraid to step on some toes.