Monday, October 26, 2009

The Real Color of News

Last week while getting my urban fix in New York City, I stepped into a church a block from Times Square. The doors were wide open and this sign ("Sinners Repaint") was posted at the aisle. And I confess, the sign—not the stained glass or the cathedral ceiling—grabbed my attention.

I was impressed by its creativity and though the parish leaders probably only hoped to raise renovation funds, I couldn't help but take up its cause. I'd been troubled by the recent media obsessions with non-stories (flying hoaxes, slimy talk show hosts) and more troubled still by the blatant ideologies behind which many television stations hide in the name of ratings, playing to party lines that reinforce what people want to hear (as opposed to what's true). So I decided this nifty little sign could indeed be a call to today's journalists to get back to the business of painting the truth as it is, not as a prop for an agenda. I know there are thousands of reporters out there doing good work but the corporate execs who run the Fox 'news' shows, the MSNBC's or CNN's of the world, too often slather on a lot more color than story, burying the truth beneath distracting hype. 

Granted, no news can be 100 percent biased-free. It's impossible, because the folks who write and report it are full of opinions and experiences that have shaped their perspectives. We all are. It's the lens through which we view the world. Even so, journalists—by definition of the vocation—are required to lay aside as best they can their values and views to get at the truth for the good of the people they serve. The methodology of reporting, then, actually can be  more objective than the reporter himself, even in television. (Think Murrow or Amanapour.) But the second any professional journalist reveals his position, he knows (or used to anyway) he's got a credibility problem. It's called: conflict of interest. 

In other words, citizens don't need to know what a reporter believes or what political party she subscribes to in order to a make sense of the details and information the reporter has provided in a story. Which means, we don't need to know that the president of Fox news is a staunch supporter of the Republican party (recent 'reports' have linked him as a possible presidential candidate). In fact, I'm worried about any news outlet that publicly promotes its colors. (Don't we cringe when we hear of ideologically-driven media in other countries controlled by political or government thugs?) When it happens here, and it does every time we flick on the television set, the lines become blurrier for citizens who already struggle to discern truth from opinion, fact from agenda. And that's dangerous for a culture which relies on news like an artist does his muse.

So we need to roll up our sleeves and repaint our newsrooms with truth—not slogans. Or at the very least, find the sources that still value truth—not agenda—as the real color of the news.

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