Sep 292010
Authors: Sarah Millard

As journalists in training, we learn to report facts in our articles. We conduct interviews, read back statements and fact check again and again, which gets exhausting. This is probably why I write a column; there is no need for facts here.

But we also learn that this is a tough business. Journalism is ever-changing with the emergence of new forms of media that allow untrained citizens to “report” on events just because they happened to be there. While the Internet does many wonderful things, it’s helping to kill traditional journalism by introducing blogs and freelance that can help just about anyone become one of the most-read writers online.

And these new forms of journalists that come along with new forms of media do not have to abide by the same rules that journalists do. They don’t have to check their facts or provide sources. They can “break” a news story, make up facts, use friends as sources and have a million people read it by the end of the day.

While I’m not concerned about the safety of my job, real reporters who do real work might be.

The conundrum is stunning. Because sensationalism, celebrity chatter and negative political editorials enthrall us, we turn to the Internet, where random people everywhere can spew their opinion to the rest of the world. Then, in order to keep from going under, journalists begin pulling tricks and gimmicks, catchy headlines and controversial opening paragraphs just to get a few readers to read a 600 word article instead of a 140 character tweet.

It’s been beaten into my head every day this semester that statistics show most readers only read the first five paragraphs of any news story, which in journalism-speak only equates to about five sentences anyway.

That gives journalists maybe 75 words, plus a headline, to attract thousands of readers to take time out of their schedule to completely read a story.

In order to level the playing field, the media tries to beat them by using sloppy journalism procedures, such as unreliable sources and scare tactics to draw more attention to them because the less attention they have, the less money they make. And seriously, isn’t money everything?

While my sarcasm may be apparent, money was everything to the Rocky Mountain News, which had to shut its doors almost two years ago, leaving Denver a one-newspaper town. And now, with only one newspaper, some are wondering whether we are really receiving the whole side of the story and not just what the Denver Post wants us to read.

Like any business or corporation, the media will sometimes bend its ethics to stay afloat, whether that means undercover reporting or spending a full page discussing Lady Gaga’s meat.

And then when we are only provided with one legitimate news source, we complain about how biased the media is and how we need two, if not hundreds, of different news outlets in order to find one that agrees with our personal views.

Unlike some businesses or corporations, the media is bound by virtue to serve the public. Informing the public is not a right for us but rather a privilege, and some news outlets should have lost that a long time ago.

Instead, the blame lies with the public. While we continue to meander on, ill informed or apathetic, we breed the monster that is unethical and sensational media. It is the public that must demand that they be treated with respect and given the full story of events that are legitimately important to them, not just who wore it best on the red carpet last night.

When the public begins to require change in the media hierarchy, we, as journalists, reporters, editors and everyone else involved in the process will respond to who we are loyal to: the people.

This is a difficult job, and thankfully, as a columnist, I’m not expected to do any of it.

Sarah Millard is senior political science major. Her column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be reached letters@collegian.

 Posted by at 3:53 pm

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