Four wishes for the news media in 2014

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How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

But if you’re a local TV news anchor and want to hit the big time, you join many of your colleagues across the country in repeating the same script about self-gifting at Christmas. Well, there is that one maverick at the 1:14 mark who tosses in “or maybe three or four.”

And then you wait for Conan O’Brien to put the montage on his show:

The lesson here: pack journalism is never pretty. Rather, when everyone else zigs, it’s best to zag – or at least write an original lead.

This is the first of my four wishes for the news media – reporters, editors and news outlets alike – as we enter 2014.

Foundation of democracy

Understand that I have a profound appreciation for the news industry, which has been a part of my life since childhood. I delivered newspapers (morning and afternoon at one point) for five years, worked in the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune’s circulation department while studying journalism at the University of Missouri, and was a daily newspaper reporter in Missouri and York.

What’s more, media relations is at the heart of what I do for a living today. I know and respect a good number of journalists, who by and large work really hard for too little compensation. So when people take broad-brush swipes at the news business, I take offense.

I offer these suggestions not to pile on but rather to be constructive, in the belief that great journalism is the foundation on which our democracy rests.

2. Stop seeking celebrity: This one is aimed at those national TV news people who can’t seem to decide whether they are journalists in real life or on the big screen. They have done journalism a disservice by allowing too much celebrity to creep into their careers.

3. Keep your own counsel: We all have biases, so it’s a journalist’s job to keep them from leaching into his or her work. There are enough cynical and smug opinions on social media already; reporters (and public relations practitioners) need not contribute. If you need to get something off your chest, go to lunch with a friend or write it down in a private journal. As they say, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

4. Tell your industry’s story: Most people have no clue how a news organization operates. They don’t appreciate how hard it is to report and write a story on deadline; heck, many don’t understand the difference between an article and an advertisement.

I’m a believer that the death of news – particularly newspapers – is greatly exaggerated. Billionaire investors Warren Buffet (69 newspapers), John Henry (Boston Globe), and Jeff Bezos (Washington Post) can’t each be wrong.

There’s a great story here about how the news industry is, albeit slowly, reinventing itself. But if the industry won’t tell its story, who will?

If I blame “the media” for any one thing, it’s the failure to articulate why it is so important to a free society. The First Amendment is a pretty good place to start.

It’s OK, you can admit it if you have one or two or 10 others to offer.

 

 

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