Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing in the media. What is happening.

You know what's terrible right now?
Ok, bad question. Lots of things are terrible right now. The economy and the war are terrible. Corrupt dictators are terrible. Disease is terrible. Stuff is not looking so good.

Here's what I think is the most terrible: the media.

The state of journalism right now is just sad stuff. Of course, this is why I'm going into journalism as a career--I have an incredible urge to fix it. The whole thing. Fix it all.

Really, though, every day I go into my kitchen and watch Fox News with my father, and as he's laughing at the "clever" commentary or "groundbreaking" discoveries, I just die inside. Every moment that those silly blonde women or the silly man who stands in front of the capital building in Massachusetts and yells about stuff says something else I just see the art that I love descending down the steps to hell.

My thoughts on this are stirred by a conversation I just had after I was accused of getting all my news from Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. First of all, not true. I am a regular news junkie. I get news from those two, but also my Google News Feed, NPR....Wait Wait Don't Tell Me...SNL....The Week...

You may see my problem here--five out of seven of those things are, in fact, news satires. Therein lies the question--where else am I supposed to get news? Satire is the only place where people, instead of talking about all the strange and irrelevant horrible things that are happening, talk about what is happening and how horrible all the people reporting on it are.. Everything right now is a distraction for our bigger problems--we seem to be stuck in an endless loop. Think of the biggest news stories from the past few months. The Royal Wedding? Anthony Weiner and friends? The End of the World?

Short answer--nothing important. Nothing long term. So much is going on right now, and these are the things we've decided we care most about. The big problems, everything from the corrupt medical system to the war to climate change and our depleting oil supply, is pushed into the background. Which, as far as I'm concerned, adds the media right onto that list of big problems we don't want to think about.

Until I was thirteen, I wanted to be the president of the United States. I've since decided journalists are much more powerful. Where on earth would the Tea Party movement be without Fox News or Rush Limbaugh? How many democratic bills do you think would have passed if the conservative media hadn't been so upset and critical? Everywhere we can see evidence of the media--television, specifically--being used in ways that it never has been used before. Look at the perfect case study, Sarah Palin--a governor turned vice presidential candidate turned reality show star who may run for president or vice president again. Better yet, we have Donald Trump, who the country braced itself against/embraced the idea of him as a presidential candidate, even though he has been a television icon for the past decade. Rumor has it that Alec Baldwin, a movie star, is considering running for mayor of New York--hilariously, since he himself is a political satirist. Not even to mention Colbert's Superpac, and his run for president last year jokingly, etc.

The point is, the country is being more influenced by the media than ever before, I might say, and we are influenced by it quite a bit. And if the media most of us were getting was accurate or unbiased, that'd be great. If you're getting your news from the television though, which most of us undoubtedly are, it's almost impossible to do that. You can't check the sources, they are the sources. You can't form your own opinions, the opinions are right in there. Fox isn't going to cover a story of a democratic senator doing something awesome or successful, they're just going to give us twenty four hour coverage of an irrelevant sexting scandal.

And, as much as I hate to get political here (a bit late for THAT now, Krista,) there's an interesting thing about Anthony Weiner and all of his nonsense--would any of that happened if he were a republican?

The reason I watch Colbert and Stewart is because they back up what they're saying. They point out the contradictory things that the other news stations do--which makes it nearly impossible to take the other stations seriously--ironically, since they are literally the serious ones compared to Stewart's comedy.

This is my personal favorite example of a comedian backing up something that they say and contradicting the news giant's own commentary--when Stewart totally destroyed Fox news when they got mad that a senator had compared one of his conservative opponents a Nazi.

Here's where I get to my point--the most important thing, at least to me currently, about being a good journalist with a strong opinion is using your facts. Find them. Put them in your articles. Make it easy for your readers to believe that they are true, even make it easy for them to find those facts themselves. I'm all for fancy rhetoric and style, but you are nowhere, you are nothing more than an arrogant internet troll, if you don't have facts.

There is one website that I read with embarrassing regularity that is actually the best example of journalism that I think is around right now. Nowhere am I more inspired or can I learn more from for both my blogging and my more serious journalism than this site. And that site is--you ready for this?

I'm not saying, of course, that you should get all your news or trust everything on Cracked, but there's no argument that they provide interesting information in an accessible, hilarious, and intelligent way. I've borrowed a lot from their style in terms of incorporating facts and pictures and captions, which you'll probably notice if you read my blog as well as theirs.

The reason they are so smart is because they do their research and they use technology to tell you about it. One of the reasons I love blogging so much as a journalistic medium is because it's so easy to just throw links into your writing to just about anything. This means that instead of having to present your facts in lengthy paragraphs about statistics that people will just skip over/not necessarily believe, or having to choose what statistics and facts are best from piles and piles of data that support the statement you're trying to make, you can just bring your readers right to the source and they can figure it out for themselves. I've always been impressed with the way Cracked does this, and they're starting to do it in creative ways: take this article for instance, which has a sentence with every word being a link to another piece of evidence. Or this one, which is a perfect example of how much they back up what they're saying with legitimate sources.

A lot of people write Cracked off as a crude humor site, which, don't get me wrong, it certainly is and totally intends to be. Because they have an excessive amount of pictures of scantily clad ladies and NSFW text, they aren't considered to be a very intellectual site. But what are you supposed to do but swear when the state of journalism is so sad that the most innovative and intelligent source of information is a crude humor site?

Perhaps the only other thing to do is get a liberal arts degree with a concentration in journalism and try to fix it myself.

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