Breaking News: Do We Trust It?

When I friend sent me a link to this youtube video, I watched and I laughed. I thought the satire was right-on. Please watch (be aware that the language is a little "colorful").

Did you laugh? Why?

Upon reflection, I found my reaction to this video to be disturbing. I felt the satire hit really close to the truth.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered, are we devaluing news? Or are we over-valuing it? Do we, as television viewers, believe the news as much as we believe reality shows? Or has news become more about the 30 seconds of video and a sound bite? Is it more about entertainment than reporting of events that will change your life?

Are the television news anchors who read the news on their prompters and do charitable events really reporters? Should they be held accountable for inaccuracies in the news they report? Or is that only the responsibility of the "on-location" reporter?

Do you trust the evening news? Are you skeptical? For me, my skepticism grows with the size of the event and the immediacy. And the more the 'facts' change, the less I believe. What do you think? Is it more important that reporters get the news of an event out right away, even if they report inaccuracies?

Do you watch the 'morning news' shows where anchors act like everyone on the set are great friends and seem to be having a chat with you? Is this taking the 'cold' medium of television reporting and turning it into something like the small town newspapers of old? Or is it simply filling-air time and making anchors into celebrities?

Is interviewing passers-by or neighbors for their opinions or reactions to an event, news you want to see? Or does that interview put things into perspective for you?

The ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalism can be found here. Basically it says that reporters should be objective, honest, respectful, avoid harm, and avoid conflicts of interest. There are in fact many sites on the internet that list a code of ethics for reporters. Most of them are basically the same. One source that I've read, suggested that reporters should be independent, basically self-employed, in order to avoid those conflicts of interest. The anchors we see reporting the news on television are usually employees of the network or television station. Is that ethical?

I have met and know reporters I know to be ethical. Yet, I have seen things reported as news that are not honest, objective or respectful. I am conflicted. And as a result of that, I don't watch news very often any more. Do you?

I'd be pleased to have you share your opinions about televised news today. Perhaps you can enlighten me and resolve my indecision.

16 thoughts on “Breaking News: Do We Trust It?

  1. In college I was a journalism “minor” because my school did not offer a “major” in the subject. I have taught journalism on the high school level, and practiced it as a working journalist. I subscribe to the local newspaper, two different weekly news magazines, and numerous online news feeds, and I watch television news. For local news, I try to rotate between all the local stations, though I admit I have favorites. The questions you have raised are good ones.

    You asked, “Do we, as television viewers, believe the news as much as we believe reality shows?” Personally, I don’t watch reality TV (except for occasional Presidential primary debates). I am irritated when stations try to hit us with breathless “Breaking News Updates,” but I value a professional news outlet that makes an attempt to cover the events. All of the evening news personnel are journalists with training and experience in the field. They definitely are responsible for the information they present, accurate or not.

    You made the comment, “the more the ‘facts’ change, the less I believe,” but I can tell you from experience that sometimes the story does change. Sources tell you their perceptions, but perceptions change when new facts come to light. When new developments or discoveries reveal a different angle, a responsible reporter tells the public about it. I trust news less when it does NOT change as the story unfolds; that says to me that someone at the top has dictated the interpretation.

    You asked, “Is it more important that reporters get the news of an event out right away, even if they report inaccuracies?” but I have to say regretfully that this is a result of the 24/7 news cycle. Reporters are on a “do or die” deadline to be first with the news, or an also-ran. Let’s take an example from today: John Huntsman withdrew from the Republican race. My son said, “HuffPost broke the news first . . . The New York Times didn’t break the story till an HOUR later!” Like that was a crime. Yeep! In some circles, apparently it IS. Under that kind of pressure, what would YOU do?

    You ask, “One source that I’ve read suggested that reporters should be independent, basically self-employed, in order to avoid . . . conflicts of interest. The anchors we see reporting the news on television are usually employees of the network or television station. Is that ethical?” I don’t know what that “one source” you’ve read does for a living, but I bet s/he is closely allied with independent bloggers.

    I agree that independent bloggers have recently become much more important in the breaking of news stories, but contrary to this source’s viewpoint, in my experience people who are “independent, basically self-employed” often are LESS careful and accurate than employees who are held to a standard of professional ethics by their news organization (except for those on Fox News, perhaps. Far as I can tell, they do and say only what Roger Ailes allows, but my perception is limited because my patience with that network is SEVERELY limited). Independent, self-employed people live or die by that “who posted FIRST?” standard, not by who checked their facts most fastidiously. Thus, I trust them less.

    Finally, you write, “I have seen things reported as news that are not honest, objective or respectful. I am conflicted. And as a result of that, I don’t watch news very often any more. Do you?” Actually, yes, I do. I watch it often, and I watch many different channels, as well as sampling all of the other resources I can find. That’s the only way I can have any hope of winnowing out a somewhat accurate consensus of what most professional journalists think is going on, that is important.

    It isn’t a perfect solution, but anything less is basically a choice between settling for one imperfect viewpoint, or hiding under a rock and refusing to participate at all–and I can’t find any satisfaction or sense of personal intellectual integrity in either of those responses.

    1. Jan, thanks for a very cogent response. I watch some news on television but I receive several different online ‘newspapers’ for my preferred primary sources of news.

      If the facts of the news change over the course of days, that’s understandable. As new information comes to light, they should report the change. I meant to refer to the changes that happen minute by minute, report by report, in the rush to be ‘first.’ There are ways to be first without sensationalizing the news. There are ways to report numbers that indicate, we really don’t know how many are injured or missing or whatever.

      You stated “My son said, “HuffPost broke the news first . . . The New York Times didn’t break the story till an HOUR later!” Like that was a crime. Yeep! In some circles, apparently it IS. Under that kind of pressure, what would YOU do?” I probably wouldn’t be the first because I’d want to verify my information before I reported it. I know I wouldn’t sensationalize. So I probably would not be able to keep the job.

      You’re right, there is no perfect solution to this. I appreciate the time and thought you put into your reply.

  2. Great post Lynette. I do trust my local news stations. They work hard to bring accuracy and ethics to journalism. I had to laugh at the video though. When the police were chasing OJ in his white SUV and it showed up on Canadian television, I almost spewed. and it’s only gotten worse. The 24 hours news cycle demands lots of fill. I’ve quit watching most of it. first because I saw bias giving rise to lies and inaccuracies.

    That’s the best response I can give to that BS. I always have to wonder about politicians now…the conflicting stories and the truth meters on the news show me that honesty is not a requirement to stand for any office in either of our countries. that is disappointing.

    I don’t watch reality TV except for the biggest loser. I watch that because my food plan improves when I’m watching them slogging away. Go figure.

    thx for an entertaining, informative blog.

    1. Oh, man, Louise. Don’t start me on politicians! LOL!

      But, you are right. I, too, am often disappointed in the politicians in both of our countries

      I’m glad you found this post entertaining. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I don’t watch the news, mostly because that satire is so dead on. The ads for the local news they play between the shows I do watch are so like that video. I thought the video was hilarious. But, I choose to get my news from online newspapers and from there I decide what I take as true and what I don’t. Fun post.

  4. How funny… My post today addresses related issues. And just yesterday my husband read this fascinating story in a new magazine, only to get to the last sentence that read something along the lines of: “so-and-so’s lawyer states that none of this happened.”

    I have a difficult time watching the news for numerous reasons, the “truthiness” included. I rely more often on NPR, the BBC and newspapers.

    Thanks for the insightful post, Lynette!

    1. Oh, my gosh, August, the magazine story your husband read – argh! I guess we should be grateful it at least suggested that maybe it wasn’t the truth. Sheesh!

      So funny we should both post on the same wavelength. Thanks so much for your comment.

    1. You bring up a very good point, Coleen. News stations are self-promoting. Not that self-promotion is bad, we writers do it. Unfortunately, it is obvious that some of the promos are not focused on get your most accurate news here, focusing instead on more emotional appeals. I know self-promotion is essential in this day-and-age, but how do you maintain objectivity?

  5. Oh, I definitely LOL’d at that video. Because it is incredibly close to the truth. Here in the PNW the news and weather has all been about ‘The Biggest Snow Event in 60 Years!!! It’s Coming!!!’ How to prepare, when it’s coming, just how much snow we’ll get. I wonder how many times a populace has to be told to stay off steep city streets if they’re icy. And the footage tomorrow will be of the ditzy folk slip-sliding away who thought they could defeat the elements because they have 4-wheel drive. Really, common sense? Anyone? Anyone? Nope. It really is just about sound bites. And if you want to go to the conspiracy side…most people will believe what they see on their local news, and have no way of confirming or denying what’s happening across the state, across the nation. Who decides what makes it on air? Who really owns/controls those networks? 😉

  6. Interesting topic Lynette. I’m sorry to say that I don’t trust the news. My husband and I have spent some time in Europe and we couldn’t believe what we would learn about things that were taking place in the US and we the public had no idea. So let me tell you if people think that we are not sensored here in the US, well sorry my friend, but we are big time. We hear half of what is actually happening. They only tell us what they are allowed to report to the public. Sad, but true.

    1. Karen, You are so right about the difference news here and what you hear in other countries. I had neighbors who returned to the states after eight years in Germany. When we compared memories of news stories it was hair-raising. Very sad.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  7. I, too, get my news off the internet. My television is controlled by animated characters, most of the time. Great post Lynette. I loved the video! It was extremely entertaining. Really makes you stop and think.

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