Can you trust the media?

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By: Michelle Hu <[email protected]>

Last Feb. 9, CNN spent valuable time and resources covering a story thought to be imperative to the American public. The broadcasting company published numerous online articles. In just one article, there were four video links. Larry King even had a special coverage of the story at 9 p.m.

The story that merited all of the attention was the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Situations such as these are what made senior Megan Edelstein believe that she could not fully trust the media.

Most of all, she said that students and teenagers cannot trust the media on voting. “At the end of the day, the media is a great thing to try to help people to vote, but it’s really not a positive impact on voting,” Edelstein said. “I (say that) the media was not a positive thing because at the end of the day, the media is a business, and their goal at the end of the day is not to get people to vote, it’s to get advertisers to pay money and get people to watch their program the next day and the next day. So with the training people to vote, there’s a lot of stuff that really doesn’t pertain to anybody,” Edelstein said.

Brian Spilbeler, mass media teacher and radio station manager, said he teaches his students to know who exactly the media entails. “The first thing to get (students) to realize is, you just want them to be media literate, knowing what the function of media is and who actually owns these media outlets; that’s the first thing where you start,” he said.

Spilbeler said he agrees with Edelstein’s view of the media as a business. “A lot of kids don’t realize that, you know, how big of a corporation Disney (who owns ABC News) is, and the fact that General Electric owns numerous radio and television stations, and so on, and that’s where we start, is to identify what the function of media is and how what they’re doing is they are providing content to us to entertain us but they are also providing ad agencies, consumers that can then buy their products. They make money in the commercial time that they sell,” Spilbeler said.

Bonnie Grimble, media and communications department chairperson, said she believes that the media can be trusted because of the important role it holds. “(Our nation) was founded with the understanding that an informed citizenship is the best citizenship. And for our country to thrive, grow and maintain its equality for all, then communication, information and media responsibility is very refined.

“So I would like to believe that the majority of people in the journalism field, both print and non-print, broadcast and so forth, take this very, very seriously, in terms of their jobs and the goals that they have,” she said.

Grimble also mentioned a term her co-worker John Shearin uses. “A healthy skepticism: that’s what is required to be a well-informed citizen today. Just because Wikipedia is out there, and Google is out there, the technology has changed, but it’s no different than Thomas Paine doing his one-sided viewpoint, or the Tories or the Southern newspapers during the Civil War giving their viewpoint,” she said.

“It’s the same thing; the tools have changed. But the rallying of the troops, so to speak, or the propaganda, or the promotion or the hardcore facts, don’t change. It’s a matter of how you exchange those bits of information, and it’s constantly changing in our society.”

And with skepticism also comes awareness, as Spilbeler said his students need to realize. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily that because (media companies) are trying to make money (that) we shouldn’t trust them. I just think that to be aware of why they do what they do, to be aware of when you have commercials and why you have commercials and what they are doing and how they target different groups of people,” he said.

Edelstein said that CNN targeting the mass audience by reporting on Paris Hilton conveyed that the media does not have viewers’ best interests in mind. In fact, typing in “CNN Paris Hilton” produces 2.08 million viewers, outnumbering “CNN Soldiers in Iraq,” which shows 1.85 million.

“CNN was a really great example; we talked a lot about CNN and how they were the number one group that covered the Paris Hilton thing,” Edelstein said. “And you know, we have men and women fighting in Iraq, and they’re dying every day and we have to listen to Paris Hilton for a month, maybe even more, and that was just stupid, and they did that to get their advertisers and to get people to watch.”