Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Failed Hope

Sometimes it's interesting to look back at statements of our hopes to see if dreams came true. A small commentary and remembrance about journalism appeared nearly seven years ago in a book I authored, "Days With The Dads." Obviously, my wish that the "yellow journalism" experiencing a resurgence in the electronic media would turn out to be only a temporary phase did not come to pass.

News reporting in the U.S. has become steadily worse, and there are no indications it will get better. With only minor changes, my 2008 item follows.

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Yellowish Journalism

By the time I became public relations coordinator at the McCoy Job Corps Center in 1967, "yellow journalism" was almost a thing of the past in the U.S. The practice flourished in the 1890s and early 1900s, when powerful publishers emphasized sensationalism, bias, and phony images in their newspapers to boost circulation. 

Although yellow journalism gradually yielded to objectivity in news reporting, some of the bias in images and presentation stayed around a long time.  At the extremes in my lifetime were the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Manchester Union-Leader in New Hampshire.  The Cap Times stood ready to flail any available Republican; the Union-Leader displayed similar antagonism toward Democrats.

The McCoy Job Corps Center was about an equal distance between the communities of Sparta and Tomah in Wisconsin.  News media in Sparta treated us with respect, and often gave welcome support.  Not so in Tomah.  The radio station, especially, seemed to delight in whacking us below the belt at every opportunity.

Sparta businessmen and other community leaders hosted a farewell luncheon for our staff members in 1968 shortly after the announcement that the McCoy Center was being closed. (It was one of 16 centers closed by the federal government for "economy reasons").  My boss, the manager of public and community relations, was away job hunting, so I inherited the task of speaking on behalf of our organization.

I spent several hours preparing my remarks.  Three sentences that brought considerable applause were: "I came here after working for the biggest corporation in this State.  Our center managers sometimes grappled with more problems in the first few hours of a day than the corporate executives had to deal with in a typical week.  But our people faced the challenges, solved every one of the problems, and made the McCoy center a success."

A reporter from the Tomah radio station was taping the proceedings.  Starting that afternoon and lasting throughout the next day, the station played my comments as part of its news reports.  However, the last of the three sentences was omitted.

Unfortunately, the yellow journalism practiced by the Tomah radio station made a comeback in  21st century electronic news media.  Fox News obviously slanted its television presentations and images to support archconservative political views.  MSNBC was accused of doing the same thing on the liberal side. Various talk show hosts were even worse.  Let us hope this is a passing fad and not a trend back to what would be an undesirable norm once again.

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Jayhawk23 said...

No doubt about it! Sad, but true. The internet may be the worst offender, but even the national news broadcasts are joining the trend now.

Your reference to a "McCoy Jobs Center" -- I suppose that must have been the former military base? While permanently assigned at Ft. Riley Kansas in 1970, two of us were seconded to go to Camp McCoy to teach Army reservists about military intel. I guess it was only opened in the summer, specifically for such training, at that time. My main memory: the plenitude of mosquitoes.

Anonymous said...

Yellow journalism...I haven't heard that word in ages.
I don't know if we ever got away from it, but social media hasn't helped.

I can't believe the junk spread by both sides on social media.

Dick Klade said...

Right, Jayhawk. The Job Corps Center occupied a large part of Camp McCoy, using rehabilitated barracks buildings for dormitories and offices. Before and after the Center closed, Camp McCoy was utilized in summers for National Guard and Reserve training. Who knows, you may have been using my old office space in 1970. Stranger things have happened.

PiedType said...

It wouldn't be a great exaggeration to say I've been horrified by the direction journalism has taken in recent years. Advocacy seems to be valued more than objectivity. Sensationalism more than fact. Commentary from social media more than educated and informed analysis from professional journalists. It's a race to the bottom and everybody loses.

Tom Sightings said...

Unfortunately, as I'm sure you know, this is nothing new. The very term "yellow journalism" goes back to the late 1800s and the circulation wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. And even long before that -- as I was reading in the Benjamin Franklin biography -- there were a lot of questionable reports, essays, and jeremiads that found their way into popular American publications.

That being said, I agree the whole situation has only gotten worse with 24-hour cable "news" programs and internet sites. Seems to me the only thing we can do is not watch the Fox and MSNBCs of the world, and stick to reliable sources -- there are still plenty of those, don't you think?

Alan G said...

Always a topic of interesting conversation and debate but also one that is quite complex. It is one of world-wide proportion but one must limit blogging rhetoric to the U.S. just to try and get some measure of comprehension. Although I remain skeptical by nature, I do still believe that NPR and PBS are viable sources of news, at least until it has been “proven” to me otherwise. Now, you may disagree with the facts stated by legitimate sources but you can’t disregard the facts based on your own agendas or philosophies. And understanding those facts is what propagates changes in the system, political or otherwise, to bring about something perhaps more to one’s liking.

And the aforementioned media sources such as Fox or MSNBC will, I believe, continue to thrive because the agendas and prejudices of each of us as individuals drives us to the media sources that shore up those beliefs. And as for the Internet, it was like disconnecting all the fire hoses for use on an already seemingly out of control fire. Who believes what you “WANT” to believe? There’s a blog for that!

I sure all of us have received those circulating emails usually political in nature that go off on a rant about something or someone which in many cases contain not an ounce of truth or legitimacy. But for those that hold similar agendas or prejudices they are gold and they send them to others totally convinced apparently that the whole world thinks as they do. Try to send them to ‘FactsCheck’ or ‘Snopes’ and I guarantee you they won’t bother. But the real problem is that some measure of those recipients, assuming they read the email, will then take it as factual information.

And I should not fail to mention that there is a large faction of people who get all there news and information while standing at the coffee machine at the office or socializing with friends. They don’t even know who the Vice President of the United States is probably.

Dick Klade said...

Good comments by Tom and Alan. Agree that it's good to limit our news sources to those that are credible, and PBS and NPR are credible. I also pay attention to news from the NY Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, and what's left of the Christian Science Monitor.

Everything else appearing on the Internet is suspect, and I'm careful to check statements for confirmation by other sources.

Unfortunately, as Alan says, a whole lot of folks adhere strictly to the most biased media because they parrot the reader's, viewer's, or listener's own biases.