Amongst the many, many majors I declared during my college career was a one-semester frolic in the Mass Communications department of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE). I wanted to be a journalist.
My first writing class, Journalism 101, was taught by a woman I will never forget. However at this time, I can’t remember her name. (One reason I am not a journalist, my factual memory is selective, odd and just plain stinks) Yet, I will always remember her, what she taught me about journalism and what she taught me about the media as a whole.
She was a tiny older woman. She had salt and pepper hair, once brunette, that was cut in a short pixie-type style before it was even considered a style. She wore thick-rimmed, black glasses the size of television tubes and smelled of cigarettes and perfume. She was a child of the sixties, a civil rights advocate and a feminist. She had this activist vibe about her which fit perfectly into my idea of a journalist. A woman of the people who had “really been there”.
The first news story I wrote was about a farmer’s market in the nearby town of Troy, IL. The professor required that our reporting cover “real news”. So I covered it, took my notes, talked to some patrons and vendors, organizers and advocates, gathered my information and wrote the story.
I thought my perspective on the Troy Farmer’s Market was as interesting as it possibly could be. I asked intriguing questions, placed my quotes well, gave all the facts and plenty of my own perspective which I thought would draw readership and market goers to Troy. To me it was great stuff.
Then I got my paper back.
It was marked in red. Specifically it was marked with a big red “F” at the top. It also had an equally large note from my professor written in that same red ink.
She wrote, “You are NOT an Editor. This is NOT an editorial or a feature piece. Who cares what you think?”
Turns out I wasn’t the only one who’d received the red ink. I know this because after she’d returned our papers she opened the class with 10 minute monologue about the goals of the media.
She said, “The press exists for one reason only, to inform the public! People do not need your help in forming an opinion. They are smart enough to form one on their own. Opinions are not in short supply, so we will need you to leave yours out of your reporting.”
She then invited everyone intent on giving their opinion to drop out of her class as opinions can be given without taking a college course. She said she wanted to save us time and money.
That lesson stayed with me and I took that class over 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve tried to be as cautious as I can be about fluently spreading my opinion unless the forum requires it.
In today’s mass communication domain, opinions have gone exponential. Social media is king and at a click our opinion can be known by the world.
I am becoming convinced that even large scale official news organizations (on all sides) aren’t in the business of factually informing the public anymore. It appears to be mostly opinion/editorial content, supported by “experts”, passed off as journalism. I don’t think that’s a good thing. In fact, I think it’s a damaging thing and as a result I am almost done giving any attention the media; social or otherwise.
When the “news” has been shaped by the opinion of it’s producers and those who consume it, the result is simply like talking to ourselves. We can learn nothing from this aside from how we feel (opinion) instead of what is real (fact). This doesn’t cause me to be a person who’s growing more informed.
I know, I’m a hypocrite. How can I say I am done with the media’s treatment of information while I am a writing an opinion piece for my blog filled with my own perspectives? While I am considering the details of my moratorium on media, be comforted by the fact that I know this is all my perspective. And perspectives (a.k.a. “opinions”) are at best, biased, and at worst, dead wrong.