On this, the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and just days after the death of Walter Cronkite, the subject of integrity kept repeating itself. Cronkite was there, our country’s eyes on some of the most influential events of the 20th century, bringing them into our homes and lives. I wondered how he would feel about the press we have today. Amazingly, for once, the television answered. An interview some years ago allowed him to rail against the growing trend of idiocy and entertainment in news media; where first amendment rights are abdicated by the media to allow reporters to pursue even friendlier, cozier, relationships with those they were meant to be reporting on. There was my answer, being replayed right before my eyes. Boob-tube was actually good for something.
The cult of personality was supposed to be created by the media, not to envelop them as well.
News media has, in recent years, much to be ashamed of. But, with the widespread recognition of the problem by the media outlets themselves (Thank you, Daily Show), the tide was supposed to turn. But power-worship was only a small part of the problem with modern media. Sensationalist reporting, celebrity fetishes, and ‘uber-‘promotion (self-promotion mixes with massive sponsor-placement), and ‘entertain-news’ still run rampant.
Integrity. What we needed, but had so little of. And, everywhere I looked, a little more of it seemed chipped away. Then, it got worse.
When I think of integrity in the news today, I think of BBC, Reuters and The Associated Press; the last bastions of strict news reporting. But now, I keep seeing “AP Awards” plastered on local media outlets. “AP-Voted Best Newspaper” -this and “Best Newscast Winner according to AP”-that; I don’t know what to think.
I have nothing against award ceremonies. And, I understand that having the Associated Press involved in passing-out news awards can give the ceremony a gravitas hard to come by in this industry. But, I kept seeing AP awards advertised in some very unlikely places. Media outlets that that have done their best to squander any respect from their communities, let alone win awards, kept advertising this (what I thought was) prestigious recognition.
The Sandusky Register is a newspaper in a medium-sized city in northern Ohio. Though good in editorials and graphics, it has the copy-editing of a high-school paper. No…even high-schools have spell-check. I’ve never seen a newspaper have such trouble with grammar. There is an inexplicable tendency for incredibly important national news stories, front-page in the rest of the country, to always find their way to the B-section between the sports and the classified ads. Only ‘human-interest’ and ‘local-color’ stories make it to the cover. You want to know what else is on the cover? A ‘best newspaper’ award emblazoned in the paper’s title, from the Associated press. An AP Award…for that?
Confusion sets in.
WJW of Cleveland, a major television station thats now called FOX8, also claims some of this AP fame. “Voted Best Newscast” shouts from their ever-present commercials. But how did this happen? WJW was a big-three station since the beginning of television. It had a well-respected news team, and a reputation for trustworthiness. But during a reorganization of TV stations in Cleveland over a decade ago, WJW became a FOX network station, and it’s news coverage changed. They went from conservative to shock in a matter of months, complete with sensationalized stories and fast camera-zooms on the anchors to pump-up the ‘excitement’. Now this joke in Cleveland has an award? Something must be going-on.
Something was going-on. But, for me, it wasn’t as insidious as I hoped. Apparently, the AP has broken-up into small divisions, one for each state. Each state chapter has it’s own award ceremonies. Each award ceremony has numerous, very-specific categories based on several distribution sizes.
A x B x C = a very big X
There is no back-room deal for ratings. There are no pay-to-play advertising scams. There are simply so many awards to give; eventually every kid will get a prize. The venerable Associated Press has sold it’s name to an industry hug-a-thon, and thus cheapened itself.
I know this is a small part of a big issue. Maybe that’s what got to me the most. Another bit of integrity was lost, and I almost didn’t notice it. I guess it’s best Cronkite isn’t here to watch the deterioration of something he loved so much.