I’ve heard a lot about the Great Media Conspiracy recently. It’s the one where the media has it out for a politician, a country, a part of the country or your company. The media live for no other reason, apparently, than to screw you over. I’m here to tell you that it just ain’t so.
Let’s get one thing straight at the outset. The media are in business to make money, or at least they used to be. That means selling papers, air time, subscriptions, or the digital equivalent. That’s their agenda: making money. In that pursuit, journalists are after good stories. Good stories that happen to be true, I hasten to add. False stories lead to fewer people buying media, which leads to lower profits.
I was recently asked by an acquaintance whether I was ever pressured to cover a story in a particular way when I was a producer at ABC News. Specifically, I was asked if I was asked to cover Israel in a particular way. The answer was and is an emphatic “NO.” Nor was I asked to cover any particular candidate in any particular way. Nor was I asked to cover a business or not to cover a business in a particular way.
For journalists, the incentive is to go hard after the best and biggest story out there. At various times, investigative subjects of all types accused me of having a secret or not so secret an agenda. That just wasn’t the case. What I really wanted was “the scoop,” a story that no one else had.
All of this is not to say that I don’t have certain biases. I am a human being after all, and for the record, yes, I am a moderate Democrat. And while it sometimes hurt a little bit more to go after someone with whom I agreed than to pursue someone whom I didn’t, I did it anyway. Maybe “hurt” is too strong a way to put it. How about I felt a “twinge”? To be sure, biases do make it through, but with rewrites, edits and careful attention, I think they’re a lot less than you think they are.
That said, there are some exceptions. 1) Editorial pages. Editorial pages do include opinions. That’s the idea, and any publication will have a reputation of leaning one way or the other. However, the editorial page doesn’t impact newsgathering. It just doesn’t. 2) Fake News. It used to be that a real media outlet looked “professional.” Nowadays anyone with a computer can produce a polished publication. Nowadays you have to look at the content. Unfortunately, many people don’t and that’s why so many people are quoting a bizarre range of “news stories” on Facebook and elsewhere as authoritative stories. It just ain’t so. 3) Fox. Fox is the only place that I worked in my years as a journalist where I was asked specifically to go after political figures out to change stories that didn’t meld with the prevailing politics.
The best way to avoid negative media coverage is to do the right thing. Granted, sometimes it comes event if you’re doing it all by the books, but if you do the right thing, cross your “t’s” and dot your “I’s” the chances are that you’ll be OK. If you don’t, you’ll probably get what you deserve, and it won’t be a media conspiracy that got you there.