This is part two in a four-part series about our country and its relationship to what I perceive to be some of our greatest challenges. In this second installment, we will analyze our relationship to the media. As we continue through the series, I look forward to your insight and thoughts. More than anything though, I look forward to hearing how we can work together to address the toughest issues facing our nation.
The 12-year-old version of Nathan was infatuated with the men and women on my television telling stories in war zones, from the scene of the latest national disaster, and/or within the halls of power. I loved how stories were constructed, the feeling of empowerment when the truth was discovered, and the ability of the media to speak truth to power. As I watched CNN, 20/20, and later dove into great print journalism, a spark was ignited within me. When I grew up, I wanted to be a journalist. In fact, I used to say, “I am going to be the next Peter Jennings.” I wanted to tell stories that made a difference in the lives of people. I desired to uncover the truth. I needed this to be a vehicle I could use to give back to my community.
In the fall of 2002, I set off to the University of Central Oklahoma to pursue a degree in Broadcast Communications. Over the course of five years of study (yes, I did a victory lap), I did stories for our college news station, spent some time on the radio, and even hosted two versions of a political talk show. I loved what I was doing, yet I didn’t find it fulfilling. I found the format for evening news boring and mundane. I shuddered at the idea of graduating, being shipped off to Midland, Texas to chase ambulances for a living. I hated the forced confrontation which passes for political conversations on most 24-hour news stations. With 12 credit hours to complete before I could claim my degree, I decided I no longer wanted to be a journalist. I decided to walk away from my dream; a decision that still haunts me to this day.
Even as a college student, I understood the power the media holds. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was revolutionary, because among four other rights, it granted our citizens a free press. In my estimation, this right was granted in effort to safeguard the public. This institution was and is meant to challenge elected officials and our fellow citizens. It is meant to reveal the truth. Between 2002 and 2007, I decided the institution was too far gone for me to save. The journalism I loved was never coming back. In my estimation, there was nothing a kid from Frederick, Oklahoma could do to save it.
Looking back on that decision, I now realize I was only half right. I don’t think I could have changed things. After spending several years working in the nonprofit sector, I now realize this is where I am meant to be. This is a sector I can influence. Here, I can be a leader in my community and bring about the change I desire. The media is not beyond saving though. To do so, we must rewind back to a fundamental idea of what the media should be.
The media is meant to inform and protect us. Some may disagree with this notion, but for those constitutional purists out there, I think this was the founders’ intent when they wrote the section on the freedom of the press. To do this job, the media has to fundamentally change. This is the idea I would like to spend some time discussing here today.
As consumers of media, what have to decide what we want. Do want to be informed and protected? Do we want our news presented in an unbiased nature or would we rather have what we consume fulfill our worldview? This decision is not to be taken lightly and it is fundamental, if we want to progress as a nation.
If you dislike President Obama, there is a 24-hour news network for you, conservative magazines, and millions of online sites that will reaffirm your policy beliefs, disdain, and perhaps disrespect. If you believe the man can do no wrong, you’re in luck, because the feedback machine will coddle your worldview too. But, what if you want the truth? What if you respect the President, voted for him, but want to hold him and other elected officials accountable? Where do you turn for an unbiased opinion?
Of course, I can list news outlets and journalists who do a fair job. I read articles by authors who possess a political ideology unbeknownst to me, but it is getting harder to find these sources. It is perhaps more challenging now than it has ever been, because now we have the power to curate our media. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with only the news we want to see and read. I am guilty of this. I don’t follow Fox News or read articles from The National Review, because I know I will disagree with them. Instead, I follow media outlets who support my worldview and often vilify the other side. The problem with this type of curation is the fact that I am never challenged.
I never hear from people who think differently than me. I don’t watch news that really makes me think. It just regurgitates what I already believe in soundbites and articles proclaiming the truth. This ultimately leads to a failure to grow as a citizen, an opportunity to learn, and even more detrimental to our society, compromise. Here, the media has an opportunity.
I am not advocating for the shuttering of media outlets who feed your worldview. I think the shipped has sailed on that lofty ideal. Rather, I want to challenge you the consumer. By all means, consume Fox News or MSNBC, but also watch PBS and listen to NPR. Try as hard as you can to listen to those on the other side of the argument. Remove the bias from your life and I think you will amaze yourself at your ability to hold opposing views in your mind, listen rationally, have profound conversations, and see the middle ground on the greatest issues facing our nation.
If you do this, I believe you will discover the media world is failing us. As you begin to shift your behavior and patterns of consumption, a couple of things will happen. Media will continue on the path it is currently on and our country will follow suit. We will continue with our inability to have adult conversations about our nation. Our partisan divides will continue to cripple government. Compromise will continue to be treated like a dirty four letter word. Or, if you, like me, and all of us who rely on journalism to make decisions create a mass of people who ask more of our fundamental institutions change our expectations, then media companies will respond. They will begin to report fairly. They will approach from multiple angles. They will work objectively. They will attempt to remove bias from the newsroom. As they do these things, I believe a revolution in our public discourse will occur. Perhaps, and with fear over being overly dramatic, our nation may be saved in the process.
I don’t know what the future of the media looks like. 10 years ago, I couldn’t have predicted our ability to curate what we watch and read via social media channels. I do believe we can fix bias in the media and ultimately change our worldview for the better. I have no illusions about our ability to agree on every subject. I also have no illusions about our power to be informed fairly and honestly. Yet, I am still filled with hope. Why? Because I know I am not alone. I also know people are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. Facts will ultimately win the day, but only if they are demanded. I, and others like me, have some demands and we are ready to be heard.
Be good to each other,