The Fall of American Journalism

Can you guess how the CNN piece went?

I don’t see any value in sensationalism, and that’s what the program I was on was all about. I hung up after the first 15 minutes. Someone from the show called to say they’d lost the connection, and I explained I wasn’t familiar with the show beforehand, but having heard it I couldn’t take part in it. She said she understood, and asked me to explain it to the producer who had asked me on. So I did.

I am a 29-year-old reporter with global aspirations. CNN should be my endgoal. But giving up my commitment to quality reporting isn’t worth it; I would never go work for a program like the one that just had me on (however briefly).

This story is big news. It was on ABC’s Good Morning, and there were eight or 10 television cameras at the press conference this afternoon at the Conway Police Department. But it doesn’t need to be hyped. When one of the biggest names in news is doing the hyping you have to know something is wrong.

I work for a small community paper and contribute to New Hampshire Public Radio — both venues that don’t feel like the news has to be stretched to be valuable to the audience. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to compromise on that. Journalism isn’t just about making money. It’s also about keeping people informed. Scared is not informed. It is a disservice. I have no interest in trumpeting unknowns in order to attract an audience.

If that relegates me to the small-town paper, so be it, but if that is the case it’s a shame. If it takes sensationalism to make it mainstream than journalism is indeed doomed.

But that isn’t the case at all. The New York Times, Washington Post and NPR are consistently excellent news outlets. They play it straight, reporting the news as best they can. There is value in that. It is, in fact, one of the most valuable ingredients in democracy. It scares me what damage is done by the sensationalization of valuable information.

I really only have two things to say after this experience:

  1. Thank you New Hampshire Public Radio, which, when I asked if they were interested in the story said they don’t really cover crime in that way because it comes off as sensational. What a classy response!
  2. Thank you Lt. Chris Perley of the Conway Police Department. He handled repeated attempts to prod him into sensationalism with the utmost professionalism. Bravo.

It’s hard to see your profession let you down. I don’t intend to return the favor.

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