Nor is it true that they look for negative stories so the companies that advertise will buy more ads.
Apparently, there are those who have these erroneous impressions. They were sitting all around me at a recent luncheon and some of them spoke and since I wasn't invited to speak, I'll just take a minute here to set the record straight.
Members of the press have a very solemn responsibility to inform the public of what is going on in their government, in their communities, in their schools and in their world.
The public needs to know these things so they can act or react, as is necessary.
Say there was an attempted kidnapping, as happened this month in our county. The public needs to know where and of whom so they can be ever more vigilant and protect themselves and their children.
Say there was an earthquake in a far-off land, as happened this month in our world. The public needs to know so they can offer assistance, learn the importance of preparation and offer refuge to those impacted if needed.
Say there was an amendment to state law that would compromise government transparency, as happened this month in our state. The public needs to know so they can provide input and become involved in the process.
It is only where there is a free press that there is an informed citizenry.
It is only where there is a free press and an informed citizenry that there is a free government.
History shows that governments that want total control start by muzzling free speech and free press. They'll send their own message out and by controlling what people hear they are able to hide any amount of corruption and abuse.
Freedom of the press was one of the first rights preserved in the Bill of Rights. Some have called the media the fourth estate because it keeps a check and balance on the other three.
So, why the bad rap for the press?
Consider the charges:
1. Because they always look for and print the bad stuff.
It's a common complaint but one that might bear a closer look: sports pages, lifestyle pages, reports of awards, new construction, city council coverage, features, business, people stories.
And if there's bad stuff, it's because the bad stuff is news too. It's stuff you need to know. It's stuff you need to protect yourself and your families from.
And if a survey I did way back in college is still true, people are more likely to read to the end of a bad-news story than they are to read to the end of a school-board meeting story. It's what they're interested in. So the press can't take all the blame.
2. Because they're not accurate or fair.
Every reporter has a tremendous job of putting a 90-minute meeting or someone's personal experience or someone else's life story or dream or show or business into 500 or 1000 words. Every story can be told 100 different ways. Each reporter has a moral responsibility to present the story fairly and accurately. Some do that better than others. Some reporters and some entire presses have been known to abuse that responsibility. They are generally known and they are rightly judged accordingly.
Those reading each story might bring a bias to it as well. If they're on one side, they'll likely think the other side got more favorable treatment. Objectivity goes both ways.
There is not one reporter that I know that is in this for the money. This is not a job for anyone who's after money. Nor do any reporters I know think that he or she will get more money or bring in more ad revenue by writing controversial stories. Some of us, in fact, dread controversial stories when we're faced with them. It's really not all that fun to call someone you respect and ask them if a charge of corruption or nepotism has basis.
Perhaps I should speak for myself, but I know I'm not alone when I say I'm in this because I meet so many people and learn so many things and then have the incredible opportunity of sharing what I learned and who I met with anyone who wants to listen -- because they're things I think they will benefit from knowing.
It's a tremendous responsibility. It's a tremendous honor.
It's not mercenary, it's a public service. It's to educate and enlighten.
You need to know that.