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"Extra! Extra!" fairly leaped off the page of the papers. Something earth shaking had city editors in a frenzy to get an extra edition on the streets of America's cities. Radio stations crackled with static reaching for the limits of their broadcast capabilities and range. Hours, or even days, might go by before the news reached the rural enclaves of the nation. Weeks might pass before occurrences from foreign shores would be reported through 'news reels' at the Saturday Matinee in local movie houses. Events were analyzed by men gathered in barbershops and feed stores. Women, busy with family and home chores, often depended on what they were told by their husbands which then may be 'streamed' over the back fence on laundry day.

I wonder, though, if folks back then were actually more aware of real issues facing the nation and the world than we in this modern age of instant exposure. Information back then was pertinent and to the point as print space and air time was limited, allocation a challenge. Today, we are under incessant bombardment from innumerable sources and means of distribution. No more are we snapped to attention with Extra! Extra! "Breaking News" banners inch across the bottom of screens twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year. We're fed perfunctory trivia and gossip to fill the twenty-four hour schedules. Quite the opposite of its intention, we are lulled into indifference, a so what, and yeah, yeah, yeah attitude because the news isn't 'breaking' at all. It's been snipped from context, pulverized into hype and propaganda, colorful adjectives, and a tone that spews irrelevance.  

Ratings drive the televised news and the print media. Advertisers rule! Even the cyber world is not free of sensationalism to draw readers from competitive sites and attract the ad boys with 'click' numbers. Some of the prestigious newspapers have resorted to practices once reserved for the tabloids luring us at supermarket checkouts. If issues and policies fail to pique attention from a weary and apathetic public, gossip and slander is guaranteed to make the hard sell. But who's to be held responsible? If ratings drive the industry and this is what we're hearing and reading, where does the responsibility for change ultimately lie?

This week, millions of Americans are mourning the sudden loss of Tim Russert, Washington Bureau Chief for NBC/MSNBC News and moderator of Sunday morning's long-running "Meet The Press". The outpouring has been equal to that for a head of State. The testimonies shared by hundreds of his colleagues rang of a genuine love for the man. Tom Brokaw, himself the epitome of professionalism, choked up and struggled to speak on Sunday's "Meet The Press" tribute. Public condolences and emails posted to MSNBC numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  The one comment reiterated over and over was Tim's desire for truth and transparency. He was one of the last remaining bastions determined to glean relevance from rhetoric for the American people, and to hold politicians accountable for their remarks.

Why are journalists of this caliber becoming few and far between? Is it due to the corporate pressures of news agencies and newspapers, their bosses, that have turned into conglomerates rather than the more 'free press' of the past? Are the press and the broadcast media really free at all? Or is it just one more industry driven by bottom line profit sacrificing truth, significance, and integrity for ratings numbers and copies sold? Have Americans, in general, succumbed to the lesser quality? If ratings and numbers guide content and the escapades of Brittany Spears take precedence over the ineptitude of a lobby-driven Congress just who is to blame? And how can it, in this year that seems to be rallying behind the premise, be changed?

Already, we are in the throes of what promises to be a media-driven election. Our nation faces dilemmas that quite possibly could thrust it into a decline unrivaled in our history. Issues that affect our daily lives are now of a Global nature like never before. Jobs, commodities ranging from energy and fuel to food, health care, and education are all subject to trade policies, immigration policies, and regulation. Foreign Policy decisions, diplomacy versus war, the mounting Federal deficit, will affect generations to come. If we also consider the recent rash of climatic disasters, one may wonder if our decisions in the voting booth in November may even be of Cosmic proportion! Do we really need to know about Michelle Obama's shopping habits or the source of Cindy McCain's cookie recipes? Personally, I don't give a rip! I want to know how their husbands plan on addressing the cost of gas in my car and food on my plate. I want to know why they voted for or against a certain piece of legislation and what was in that bill that determined their vote.  

Women make up more than half of the eligible voters. The responsibility of good decisions falls on us like no other 'group'. For our own future and the future of our families, we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the hype. We must collectively demand accountability from the media. Every station and every publication has a website and an email address. Complete lists can be found on the 'web'. Use it for your protests. Tell them what you want to hear and read, what you don't. Hand write letters to the Op-Ed columns in your local paper. Perseverance is the key; the ol' squeaky wheel gets the grease cliché works. A gentleman in my FWA Chapter has a 'group' mail list that includes his Government Representatives, major publications and news organizations of import. Daily, he writes his evaluation of news coverage and sends it to the entire list. Imagine the impact of that if a million or so did it as a matter of routine!

In addition, we can avoid the outlets that resort to this type of 'news'. We can take advantage of the PBS broadcasts such as Jim Leher, Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose. We can take an hour while preparing a meal or folding clothes and listen to what is really happening on Capitol Hill on C-span. We can support only those publications that remain above the fray with our subscriptions. We can boycott products that advertise on less than credible broadcasts and tell them why. We can vow that we will research facts for ourselves rather than be quick to believe the rumor mills. As ads that fall in the category of 'dirt politics' begin to appear on our local stations, we can phone those stations and demand that they refuse to run them or we won't patronize their advertisers. WE can be the watchdogs for truth and relevance. Yes We Can! In fact, we must. Tim Russert has went home.

Susan Haley



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Suzann wrote Jun 19, 2008
    • Love your comment on Tim Russert “He was one of the last remaining bastions determined to glean relevance from rhetoric for the American people, and to hold politicians accountable for their remarks,” and your question “Why are journalists of this caliber becoming few and far between?”  

      Thank you, Susan, for addressing these issues!

      I’m frightened about the next 5 months of campaigning. And I love your idea of we, the people, taking responsibility by letting the media know what we‘re thinking. “We must collectively demand accountability from the media. Every station and every publication has a website and an email address.” I so agree with you. We must get out of our bubbles and write to these news stations and news editors and give them feedback. Your FWA guy is doing a fabulous thing, and you‘re right - if we all gave feedback everyday to our news media, it could indeed make them more accountable.

      One of the many things I love about your blogs, Susan, is that you not only identify problems, but you also propose do-able SOLUTIONS! I think you‘re fabulous.  

      Thanks for the excellent and intelligent work that you‘re doing.

      With warmest regards,
      Suzann



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Midnightmom wrote Jun 19, 2008
    • You are so Right On! Thanks for the wake up call.



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