Golden speaks out on dumbing down of news

Can the media serve our democracy? Over thirty people from around the Rogue Valley came out in the rain to explore the merits of the media with renowned radio personality, commentator, columnist and author, Jeff Golden, at the Shady Cove Library on November 11.

Golden facilitated the Conversation Project “What Never Was and Never Will Be” for Oregon Humanities. The concept of Oregon Humanities is to get together, share ideas, listen, think and grow. And sharing opinions and ideas is what the audience did —about television, radio, Internet and newspapers. Shady Cove resident, Swede Christman said, “I take the news with a grain of salt. The single, biggest way the media falls short is in honesty.”

The general opinion seemed to be news sources cannot always be trusted. Reporters and editors show their political biases in the news. In defense of the media, however, an audience member said we all believe things that are not necessarily true. We all see things differently, Golden added. The discussion focused on larger media outlets rather than local newspapers.

There is also censorship by media owners. With many media outlets now owned by large corporations, stories that might harm their businesses may not be covered. It’s a business —period, said Golden. The focus is on profits to the exclusion of everything else.

News sources are catering to “dumbed down” Americans, Golden explained. Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson get media coverage before the serious news. If it bleeds, it leads and KISS— keep it simple, stupid— is how the media decides what coverage will be aired. Shady Cove resident, Kathryn Hardy, said, people want to be entertained and do not want to know what is going on.

Although many of those present used the Internet, it was agreed anyone can report online without accuracy. Golden, however, pointed out the great value the Internet has as a vehicle of free expression. A high school teacher from Butte Falls, Kevin Keating, expressed concern the Internet is changing children’s ability to learn. Reports are sometimes done in a hodgepodge fashion with slices of information from Internet sources. Research is not as extensive as before.

Discussing Fox, CNN and other news sources, Golden said the question in America is, “Who do you believe?” He also asked, “Do you think the media is picking our leaders?” Audience members felt the media only covers the top two candidates, leading to a lack of information on the others. This led to a few comments about elected officials not keeping campaign promises. An opposing view pointed out many times when officials do get into office, what has been promised may not be feasible in reality.

Pam from Ashland, who had listened to BBC and heard in gory detail how the women in the Congo were mistreated, noted the American media does not extensively cover stories of other countries. Golden said, “We do not care about the rest of the world.” Shady Cove Mayor, Ron Holthusen, while in Paris read an English written newspaper and noted “this was a different world than I see when I am in the United States.” He realized there was a lot more going on than he had thought. The audience consensus was Americans demand their comfort zone.

After Arthur Smith said there is “no place where the public feels comfortable with (reported) information,” Golden brought up the non-profit public television station PBS and NPR (National Public Radio). He said NPR has twice the audience as three years ago. But he also noted there is a very limited amount of money available for public radio or TV.

After many issues were covered in the spirited discussion, Golden said it was time to move on from the bellyaching. What can we do, he queried? Three ways to be effective are as political citizens, media consumers and community activists.

Talk to congress to get rules changed on major news organizations. In previous years, rules required the media to openly prove they were operating to benefit the public. Let’s get those laws back and hold media owners responsible for what is on the airwaves, said Golden.

Become a media customer and say, “I have a real problem with this story,” suggested Golden.  He added, large numbers of people, maybe 200, complaining to an editor, would have an impact on reporting. Giving criticism in a respectful manner will get more attention, suggested one audience member.

As community activists, share sources of reliable news with others. Hold meetings to discuss issues. At that point, Eagle Point resident, Sue King, shared the name of a magazine she believes in, “The Week” available online. Golden advised the audience not to rely on one or two media outlets. He suggested three websites: Accuracy in Media, http://www.aim.org , Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting http://www.fair.org and Free Press http://www.frepress.net. Golden also suggested snopes.com to check for accuracy of information.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent

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