Traditional media need to show they’re valuable every day, not just in times of crisis

There is no doubt to me in times of crisis all media – from traditional to social – can be valuable, important and relative. The audience reach via the web and social media is tremendous, The Globe’s YouTube video on the Boston Marathon bombings proves that. (According to a colleague of mine the video had 301 views by about 3:30 p.m Monday, April 15. Then Tuesday morning around 8:15, it had over 7 million.)

The trick for traditional media outlets to figure out is how to make society understand from day to day how important, valuable and relative traditional media are to society. That we’re not all fluff and car accidents that is cheap to cover. That we care more about society then the dollar signs behind the big corporations that own traditional media.

I believe trained, experienced journalists with high ethics, values and flexible skills doing what they do best to be most important to the profession and to a better society. (Yes, I’m an idealist.) Be that on Twitter, websites, TV, radio, print or whatever else is to come. I don’t know about the medium being the message anymore? But I do know that traditional media need to be more meaningful day to day – just as they are in crisis mode – in order to show the importance of journalists versus citizen reports, random bloggers, etc. They need to in order to survive.

I saw some fantastic, meaningful, compelling reporting being done by all forms of media Monday. Much of it presented well. (Also a good argument for why sports journalists need to be trained as hard news journalists too.)

But then Monday night’s coverage of the “suspect” from CNN was disturbing and an example of traditional media not showing its worth. They stated authorities were looking for a dark skinned or black suspect wearing a black hoody, avoiding eye contact with other people. (Also still mentioning this Wednesday too, read Mediabistro’s report on that.) Seriously? Did these journalists putting that non descript “description” on the air ever read anything about the harm of such subject descriptions? Surely some class somewhere or in their prior station experience (or even in the AP style book) they received some sort of training about stereotypes and the harm of using race as a sole descriptor. (Read a good article on this topic from the Maynard Institute.) Now the suspect is being described as a white man by CBS and a new report from CNN.com leaves race out all together (See screen grab, below right).

CNN.com website screen grab April 17 5:05pm (Pacific) now with no race mentioned. From: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/17/us/boston-blasts/index.html?hpt=hp_c2

Think of how often a suspect is described as black or brown and turns out to be white. Think of the harm that does to society as a whole. We still don’t have a photo of the suspect or any real details. Until race is a known factor, if it even is, shouldn’t this vague of a description be left out? This is a pet peeve of mine, clearly, but the lack of continuous responsibility and thoughtful coverage is something that is hurting all journalism.

Since then, the coverage of a “sourced” non-arrest by CNN and Fox News, proven to be false was another doozy not helping the plight of journalism. CBS and NBC did hold to standards not going with the rumor just because the other networks did. Kudos to them. (Check out Poynter Storify for more on this.)

This is why I’m always saying (probably to the annoyance of some others that I work with) that multi-platform storytelling and journalistic values and ethics are actually the most important tools for every student. The technology changes and they need to embrace it all as it happens… no matter the platform these basics will lead to success for them and the places they work. We need to teach students technology, for sure. But most importantly we need to teach them the foundations of journalism and to be flexible, embracing change. I think most journalists, by nature of their daily changing jobs, do embrace change, to some extent at least. Though I did hear of a certain anchor in Chicago who, as of 2004, still was using a typewriter instead of a computer. I don’t believe he is the typical practical journalist who has to juggle more and more with fewer human support resources but more technology to help – thanks smartphones!

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