Who are “the media”?

By Caitlin Kelly

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The late, great NYT media writer David Carr, much missed

Unless you know a journalist, or are one, dismissing “the media” is an easy — and lazy — way to describe the millions of men and women, of all ages, worldwide, whose chosen profession is to find and gather accurate, verifiable data and disseminate it as widely as their medium allows.

It’s disingenuous and misguided to mistake journalists for stenographers.

As the late David Carr once said: “I don’t do corporate portraiture.”

Our job is to challenge authority.

To speak truth to power.

To insist upon clear, straight, verifiable answers.

Those who don’t?

They’re a joke.

As Trump bellows and whines and threatens to keep making reporting on his administration difficult for all but the most fawning, it’s useful to remember what 99 percent of journalists actually do:

— We report on science and medicine, digging through journals, speaking to scientists and researchers and physicians and patients, trying to make sure the latest “miracle” drug or “breakthrough” cure really is that, and not just the prelude to a Big Pharma IPO.

— We cover local government, school board meetings and other minutiae of local life, where every hard-earned taxpayer dollar is spent (or wasted.) We read long boring reports and sit through long boring meetings to keep eyes and ears on elected officials.

— We race toward danger to photograph war, natural disaster, fires and crashes. Photographers and videographers have no luxury of distance. They, too, get injured, physically and emotionally. Some are killed in the line of duty — like news photographers Tim Hetherington, Anja Niedringhaus and Marie Colvin, their names meaningless to those beyond our circles. But their bravery and determination to keep telling stories, no matter how dangerous, inspires many, like our young friend Alex Wroblewski, who’s been to Iraq several times.

— We sit with people whose lives have been shattered by crime and tragedy. We listen carefully to their stories and try to be compassionate, even while we take notes or record them for posterity. Through those stories, we try to elucidate what it means to live with daily pain and grief, the cost of lawlessness and mayhem.

— We cover cops and courts, holding police and other powerful authorities to account, to restrain, when possible, their abuses of lethal power.

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— We watch, listen to and share our experiences of culture, whether Beyonce’s latest album or a performance of 16th. century lute music.

— We dig into business and corporate behavior, reading the tiny print at the back of annual reports. We speak to workers at every level to hear their firsthand experiences, not just the shiny version presented, forcefully, by public relation staffs.

— We watch the larger culture for shifts and trends, trying to make sense of a world moving at dizzying speed.

And that’s still a very, very small portion of what we do.

Even as Trump stamps his feet and shrieks about the “failing” New York Times, (for whom I write freelance and for whom my husband worked for 31 years), pretend you’re a journalist — and fact-check!

The Times, Washington Post and others he attacks relentlessly are seeing a huge jump in subscriptions.

Even as Trump has shut them out of the White House briefing room:

The White House blocked several news outlets from attending a closed-door briefing Friday afternoon with press secretary Sean Spicer, a decision that drew strong rebukes from news organizations and may only heighten tensions between the press corps and the administration.

The New York Times and CNN, both of which have reported critically on the administration and are frequent targets of President Donald Trump, were prohibited from attending. The Huffington Post was also denied entry.

Both the Associated Press and Time magazine, which were allowed to enter, boycotted out of solidarity with those news organizations kept out.

Spicer said prior to the start of the administration that the White House may skip televised daily briefings in favor of an off-camera briefing or gaggle with reporters.

The next time someone bitches about “the media” send them the link to this blog post, please.

There is no “the media.”

There are millions of individuals working hard to do their best.

Some are biased.

Some are lazy.

Some are useless.

Many are not.

Imagine a world without accurate verifiable information, on any subject.

Is that a world you prefer?

28 thoughts on “Who are “the media”?

  1. “The media” conflates many different kinds of public communication into one category, but they are quite different. Advertising is quite different than journalism. Fictional television and film stories are different from documentaries. We are confusing the form with the content. It’s like saying books are dishonest.

    1. Exactly. And my post only addresses journalism/non-fiction.

      The larger problem, which is why I keep blogging this issue, is that some people have no idea — and listen to political garbage because it substantiates their ignorance.

      Great to hear from you again, by the way!

  2. Loved this post and very happy to see people sticking up for the media, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I know media and journalism isn’t perfect (who is?) but I’m horrified at the attacks on the media. As well as the implication that I, as an average citizen cannot think, or verify facts for myself.

      1. “And still she persisted…” As you shouldn’t abide attacks that threaten your reputation and our freedoms! I’ve actually lost a few family members on FB because I won’t stop posting political things that I disagree with. I will not remain silent! I’ve been respectful but my voice will be heard when I see basic rights attacked. Keep on keeping on! I believe in the good, honest and fact checking journalists!

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin,
    I read all your blog posts with great interest, but your post today on what journalists (including photo journalists) do is particularly compelling and moving. Actually, I’m close to tears, thinking of all the hard work they do, often risking life and limb. I’d love to share this on Facebook. But I did not see the Facebook icon that would allow me to easily share. I could “copy and paste” your post, but if it’s ok with you, I’d prefer to click a Facebook icon because it might drive more traffic to your blog. Is the FB icon there and I’m just not seeing it? Thanks,
    Jan Jasper

    1. Thanks!

      I don’t have one of those icons…I should?! I’ll try to figure out how to add those.

      In the meantime, you can always post a link to this on your FB page. I do that often; just cut and paste the URL.

      I really appreciate your kind words. It makes me so angry to see so many smart, passionate people vilified for political gain. They are my friends and family.

  4. This is, in my humble opinion , a golden opportunity to lead the way.; to show the way for everyone with a cause to advance it to its fair resolution.
    The first thing a demagogue must do to secure his power is to silence his critics. I think his orangeness has chosen the wrong bunch of critics.
    I like to think this will be a situation where the lion lies down with the lamb, where ideology is set aside for a time in order to take care of bigger business.
    Thanks for another good post, looking forward to the next one. You always keep it fresh.

  5. What a powerfully and passionately-worded explanation of the importance of the media. There’s a reason why the First Amendment comes first. Journalists’ roles as the speakers and writers of the truth is too important.

  6. Kaitlyn, Once again you touch upon an interesting topic, one that certainly has personal relevance for you. The confrontational and dishonest “blurts” that spew from the right in an attempt to silence reports that expose embarrassing details are (fortunately) not silencing a diligent bulwark against tyranny and corruption. As you mention, both NYT and the Post are gaining readership. It’s easy for me to do my part by maintaining my active subscriptions.

    It’s you, and the cadre of colleagues you work with, that have to keep holding the mirror aloft. Eventually, the emperor will recognize that he has no clothes. Until then, please know that I am grateful for your efforts. You’re fighting a soldier’s battle. Blood flows in black ink rather than red, but it still represents wounds.

    I’d better stop before I get even more melodramatic (this is one of the reasons you’re the journalist, while I’m a rookie blogger), but I think you get the picture.

    Semper Paratus

    1. Thanks for the vote of support. πŸ™‚

      I’m not in the WH Press Corps, nor covering POTUS and his antics, but many of our friends and colleagues are, and I don’t envy them.

      But I’m also moved by how this, bizarrely, has placed journalism front and center again in a way that makes clear(er) why some of us do what we do and what it matters.

      A democracy without steady, factual reporting on those in power is no longer a democracy.

  7. It’s easy to forget that the media is the only important interface between the government and society in a democracy because we take freedom of information for granted. You are tasked with a great responsibility and yes it’s inaccurate to paint the “media” with the same the brush stroke. I cannot think of any meaningful political change in history that was not mobilized by the media’s capacity to engage the public in the momentum for change.

    1. Thanks, Ini.

      Right now, there is such animosity toward the press (gee, I wonder why) coming from the White House. It galvanizes and mobilizes his supporters but only serves to prove how much fear he carries of the power we still have to unmask him and his lies.

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