Sunday, September 13, 2009

Understanding the Media

In today’s world the media is all around us. News content is at people’s fingertips twenty-four hours a day and from multiple outlets. It is our jobs as journalist to give the viewer the facts and information so that they can understand the story. However it seems all too often that when watching or reading anything media related there is a biased or slanting of the story because the writers or editors have personal feelings on the matter.

In the assigned readings “Reports, Inferences, Judgments” by S.I. Hayakawa and “The Medium is the Metaphor” by Neil Postman it touches on these issues and how we as journalist need to understand how the media is supposed to work and give the viewer the news without any preconceived notions. “Inferences may be carefully or carelessly made. They may be made on the basis of a broad background of previous experience with the subject matter or with no experience at all.” (Hayakawa, 37) This quote is exactly what we have talked about multiple times in class; we must separate ourselves from ourselves. In other words, as journalist we must check our emotions, beliefs and preconceived notions at the door and report the facts to a wide audience. If we bring our own personal beliefs to our writing or broadcasting we might imply something that can be taken out of context by our viewers. If this happens then our judgments on certain views can stop thoughts on the subject by our viewers and thus tainting the news we deliver. We must understand that we are the mediators; we have to give information on an issue or an event to a broad audience. We cannot infer or slant our media, we give the facts and information, and then we let the audience decipher the information as they see fit. Most likely the way a 50 year-old-man deciphers the information will certainly be different than a 20 year-old-man, however we did not persuade them to have these views they created them on their own, and that is the difference. Let the audience decide what they want to take away from the media, not the other way around (we the media, tell the audience to feel this way, or have these notions about someone or something.)

It also goes beyond writing or what we say during a broadcast. It is also the way we choose to portray and view the people in our stories, in “The Medium is the Metaphor” Postman talks about this in the first part of the chapter. “We may have reached the point where cosmetics have replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.” (Postman, 42) When reading this quote I think back to the presidential election and can remember discussing in my Multimedia Journalism class about how the media was portraying Barack Obama in a more positive light than John McCain. The angles and lighting seemed to be more favorable towards the younger and thinner Obama and thus could have helped persuaded people to favor him. On Election Day the OU Daily’s front page was a large picture of Obama with McCain nowhere to be in sight. Without even reading the headline the Daily was in favor of Obama and showed their bias when reporting the event.

It is a very thin line to walk for the media; it could be one word or the way we phrase a statement or sentence that can have us leaning to one side to the spectrum or the other. It is a tool that we must craft and work at so that when it comes time to use our tools we are able to do so in the proper manner. We have discussed this topic in class as well. Being able to report unbiased and straight is what separates us from every blogger or so called “journalist” out there. This is our skill that most people do not posses and if we as young journalist can understand the correct way to portray media and begin to utilize this skill right now, we might be able to lead by example and hopefully many will follow.


  1. I agree that there were certain biases in media portrayals of the two presidential candidates, but just to play devil's advocated, I don't think the Daily's coverage is the best example.
    Before the actual election, the Daily endorsed Obama with the Our View that they published in the opinion section. So obviously they chose to show some bias there.
    But in terms of the actual election day, I think the reason they chose to show Obama, and Obama alone, is because he's the one who one. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, Obama won the presidency. I don't see any biases in not including a picture of McCain on the front page. Had McCain won, I feel like the Daily would have given him the same photo treatment. The main story was on the winner, not on the loser.

    But like it reminded you of last year's election coverage, I also think about learning about the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Take any history class and they'll tell you that TV played an important role in that election. It was the same young/old dynamic that we saw in last year's election.

    It's definitely interesting to think about how much the media influence the public opinion whether it's intended or not.

  2. Yet again I am reminded of the paradox of our responsibility.

    As journalists, we rely so much on our intellect, our intuition as well as our insatiable drive for hunting the news and grabbing the people by the throats saying "Listen to this!"

    Yet when people complain about our bias, they continue to rely on our steady flow of information. Now, I'm not saying that a great many of us aren't biased, because that would just be a straight-up lie. We are generalized as all biased lawyers in more people I've met than I care to count, but in the end, where else are they going to get their news?

    I often say to complainers: how would you like it if the news media all of a sudden just packed up and left? How would you find out about the world around you? How would you know what was happening in your world?

    More often than not, I get no responses or a quickly altered discussion topic.

    So, in light of our great influence over the people despite the majority's avarice toward us, the responsibility to remain unbiased becomes all that much more important, if it could be so more than it is now.

    We must place ourselves into our work, yet at the same time we must separate all traces of ourselves from the finished product. A thin line we walk indeed.

  3. breiadb - I have a little knowledge of the incident jroc refers to in the OU Daily's coverage of the 2008 presidential election.

    He is correct. On election day, the Daily printed a large picture of Obama on the cover before any winner had been announced.

    The story was about the historical nature of the election and the possibilty of a black man winning the race. What was not mentioned, however, was the possibility of the first female VP and its historical significance, and that is where the bias was clearly visible.

    I was taking a class under Judy Robinson at the time. She is the adviser for the OU Daily, and I can assure you, it was a teaching moment. She did address the issue with the editorial staff of the Daily and thought it so important that she addressed it in our class - and that is the most important reason you can't use the Daily as an example. It is a student publication, run by students. Many of them are not journalism majors or even in any type of communications program.