Wednesday, February 07, 2007

On Perceptions and News

I was thinking about perceptions the other day. You know, when many watch the news, they assume that the news is right. Sure, it may be “left-leaning” or “right leaning” but most would think that the news is fairly accurate. I am not so sure.

I have been personally involved, so to speak, in a few news stories. The first was an apartment fire that I witnessed. Not a big deal, but when they reported the fire, they said there were four engines that responded. There were only three, including a fire chief in his car that did not have a hook-and-ladder. I have some fireman friends, and another engine was supposed to be there, but it was diverted to another fire. Again, my eyes and my fireman friends could have been wrong, but that is not what I heard and saw. I am not saying that the news intentionally got the news wrong, but they did anyway.

I knew someone who had a friend who was murdered. The news for several days said something about it being a random murder, and they posted the name of the person arrested for the senseless crime. Trouble was, that the murderer and the murdered knew each other, and the news reported that the crime was random. In Savannah, there was a string of murders where they classified them as random, senseless. Someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, I don’t know too much about a lot of things, but when there is a relationship between murderer and victim, I would not describe the murder as random.

Third instance was with a speaker, a nationally known speaker. It was a scientific speech, but the scientist was extremely well-known. He won a Nobel Prize, and his speech made the news. I was dating a science major and we attended the free speech together. I clipped a copy of the coverage the next day, and in the article, they summarized what he said. And the reporter missed an extremely important point. In fact, they reported about the opposite of what he said. I asked my boyfriend about it, and he laughed. He confirmed my suspicion. They got it completely wrong. Not that it was a big deal; the big deal was that the scientist was visiting, and he was a really big name in the physics community. But me, being a lay person, had a completely different impression of the speech, and my boyfriend confirmed my suspicion.

Now, I don’t personally have knowledge of many things. I hear about them. And I normally trust the sourse. Trouble is, that the three instances of local news have not confirmed the accuracy of the reports or instilled confidence in the people reporting the news. Now I don’t think all stories are wrong, but each one had critical information that was wrong.

I wrote a few insignificant articles in my youth. In doing so, I met with the editor (not “the” editor, but an associate or assistant editor – but to me, he was the editor) of the publication for each submission. There were opinion pieces with facts. He could not confirm a couple of facts, and when he asked me about them, I said that they were assumed to be true by the experts. And he did not question me further. I know, small publication in a relatively small city.

I don’t consume much new now. Not because of my experiences above but I have noticed that much of the news doesn’t really affect me. We have between thirty and forty murders in Savannah each year, and it is big news, but with about 125,000 residents, give or take ten thousand, the odds of getting murdered in Savannah is about 0.025%. Not a quarter of one percent, but ten times less likely. So, from my point of view, the media gets stories wrong, and many of the stories they tell have little affect on me. I am begging to understand why ignorance is bliss.


Shadowdog said...

I think you're dead on, and I think one of the biggest reasons is how harsh the deadlines are in this 24 hour news cycle world. There is so much pressure to come out with the news first that facts often get left behind. The best example is that mining incident. Remember that? I can't remember the details now but it was something where they reported some of the miners had survived a cavein when they hadn't, or visa versa. Something like that. I just remember dozens of family members thinking their men were alive and then were crushed with the realization that the news had gotten it wrong. Morons. That was a harsh example, but there are many smallers ones, as you pointed out yourself.

Then there are the incidents where reporters are flat out making stuff up. That's happened several times in recent years.

One other thing concerning the news. Local news anywhere in the country is unwatchable. You've got the jazzy music to open the show (usually with loving camera sweeps in on the anchors as they smile coldly towards the camera), followed by the top bloodsoaked and depressing stories forced down our throats. That's followed by whatever national and local political BS is going on. Then there's sports which is far inferior to ESPN's coverage and is presented by a local drunk exjock who was a miserable failure at whatever sport he played. And then we get the weather, usually preceeded by snippy fake happy chatter between the anchorman and the weather person (both doing their best Henry Youngman impressions). And finally we have the happy story of the day that's designed to make us feel better. Dancing puppies or a bird that made a nest out of Pizza Hut boxes or the tedious kid who won the State Farm spelling bee or whatever.

I'll pass, thanks.

Christie said...

You've been nominated for one or more RFS Blog awards! Hooray!
Go to my blog to pick up the nomination button!
Let the games begin!

Shadowdog said...

And a well deserved nomination it is, assuming this isn't some kind of spam caper.

~Deb said...

Well first of all, congrats on the nominations girl! You deserve it you dirty bird! ;)

Secondly, I wonder how many times Dan Rather has said, "I'm sorry, but the story was wrong." ???

Hmm. I agree with Shadowdog - too little time to come out with such big news, you know?

Ian Lidster said...

As a longtime toiler in newsrooms I can't express how much I agree with you. Unfortunately too many editors cream their jeans over the sensational (read bullshit) stories. We have panicky screeds in our papers about avian flu and its 'huge' threat to the world based on the fact? that about 9 people have died from it, and most of them in Asia, not in our hemisphere. How many people die of regular old flu every year? Thousands. But, regular flu isn't 'sexy' (and that's the term used in the biz)so it doesn't make for good copy in that competetive biz.
Interesting piece, my pretty and smart friend.


Leesa said...

shadowdog: I did forget to mention that my logic is flawed; using a few examples to draw conclusions on an entire indistry. But I was just writing.

christie: thanks!

shadowdog: not spam, but not a highly sought after award either.

~deb: timeframes did not even occur to me.

ian: and we eat up sensational stories as well. And I loved your flu example. Exactly right on.

Video X said...

The news media is largely liberal. I don't ever believe any of it...for lots of reasons as you stated concerning your own involvement and opinion.

I worked for a certain agency that had a special delivery one night. The next day, the paper stated that the largest cargo jet in the world (Russian) was parked at an airport because it was delivering farm equipment to a nearby AFB. I was shocked at the blind faith in such a crazy statement.

A cousin of mine died in a car accident. Every single article printed in the paper concerning the high school boys and this jeep that flipped over in TN (the boys were from OH so articles were in both states' papers) said that the authorities suspected alcohol and were testing for alcohol/drugs. None of that was even the slightest bit true. None of those boys drank or did drugs ever. Two of the four boys were dead on arrival of the emergency crews was unconscious. There was not even the slightest suspicion by any authority.

I never believe it unless I can find it myself...untwisted.

Leesa said...

VX: I think the media leans more towards the side that is in power. Can't piss in a well and expect to get access to the newsmakers. But that is my jaded point-of-view.

Rick said...

I spent 20 years in television news and can tell you, from experience, that the smaller the city, the younger the reporters and the more exaggerated the reports. They're all trying to get an "escape reel" together and move on to bigger things. Happens in the big cities, too, just not as often. Never let the facts get in the way of an escape reel.

Leesa said...

rick: I love the term "escape reel."