Journalism? Where’s Your Mother?

I can’t keep quiet about this Rupert Murdoch thing. Surely you’ve heard about the News Of The World fiasco that caused it to be shut down after 168 years. That little thing about hacking into the cell phones of celebrities, murder victims and, oh, yes, a child? That was the last straw. The newspaper was accused of deleting messages left on the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, thus interfering with her murder case. Her family thought she might still be alive because her messages were being removed.
Of course, no one has ever accused this money-making machine of sensational stories to be anything more than tabloid journalism at its best (or worst?), but the pressure to come up with ever more scandalous headlines led them to step too deeply into the muck this time. The scandal has led to more investigations of Murdoch’s media empire, including FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post and New York Sun. It goes on….
So, what does this have to do with being a parent, you ask? Plenty. If you think it’s O.K. to hack into private cell phones, then just stop reading now. Your kids might turn out to be decent human beings, but it will probably not be the result of your ethics. One thing we can teach our kids is that “news” is not always news. With increasing pressure to get bigger, more salacious, more sensational stories, boring old news and real reporting have fallen by the wayside. Sources are not checked, pop psychology and fabricated narratives substitute for real studies and real stories, and ethics are abandoned.
How many of us believe we need eight glasses of water a day? Not so. No research supports this, but how often do you hear it? How many people believe boys’ and girls’ brains (or men’s and women’s) are significantly different? Not true, either, but you certainly hear a lot about it.
Pop Quiz: Which is more interesting? A. Weiner’s sexting     B. The looming U.S. debt crisis
News and entertainment have become so inextricably intertwined that it’s often difficult to tell what the real story is. And where the media outlets are getting their sources. With so many ways to get information these days, we need to teach our kids about sources and to question what they read, see and hear. And somebody, somewhere, please teach kids (and many adults I know) the difference between fact and opinion. And just because it’s on the Internet, even on a site that looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it’s true. I’ll give you a simple example. I recently read an “article” entitled “10 SHOCKING THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT LIFEGUARDS.” Since my daughter is a lifeguard for the Tulsa Parks Department, I decided I would find out what shocking truths I don’t know about her.
First, the site looked like a legitimate medical/health/wellness site. But I couldn’t find that any of the articles had been professional or peer-reviewed. Heck, they didn’t even note where the information they were using came from. So, I assume it came from the writer’s head.
The lifeguard story had a by-line, but apparently the shocking truth about lifeguards was her opinion, because she didn’t interview a safety expert, nor were there any valid statistics or support for what she said. But the way she said it certainly sounded factual and authoritative.
She pointed out that most lifeguards are teenagers (horrors! I guess we’re supposed to assume that most teens are untrustworthy); most of them have never actually performed CPR (wow, really? Maybe they’re actually doing their job and getting the kids out of the pool before they have to perform CPR. And, by the way, how many of us who are trained in CPR have actually had to do it? That’s like saying a policeman can’t protect you with a gun because he has never actually shot anyone). Another “shocking” item announced that  TEENS are checking the chemical levels in pools across the U.S. (If you’ve ever checked chemical levels, it’s not rocket science. A 17-year-old is perfectly capable of doing it.) There’s more, but you get my point.
Granted, this is a mild example of unethical journalism, but how often do misleading, twisted or completely false stories get repeated? Even as adults, we’re not very good at getting the right information before we go off half-cocked. Does it sometimes take a little digging to get the facts? Yes, but it’s not that hard if you have a computer. I do it all the time. I get information from all kinds of sources wanting me to do stories on one amazing thing or another. Sometimes, I even see these stories in the national news the next day (so we’re all getting the same press releases) and I’m astounded that often no one at the news outlet has bothered to check to see if the information is accurate, misleading, or from a source that has a hidden agenda or no credentials. It takes five minutes, people.
So, moms, do your kids a favor and model good media consumption. We all get hooked into the sensational stuff, but if that’s the meat of our media diet, then we’re in trouble, especially if we’re relying on that to get our information. Teach your kids how to check sources and why it’s important. When journalists are duping us and only showing remorse when they get caught (some, not even then), we’re all heading for the lowest common denominator. Maybe these journalists’ moms need to tell them to use their inside voices – the ones in their consciences that tell them to do the right thing, which is sometimes the quieter, more difficult, path.
Categories: Editor’s Blog