You can’t blame the media for everything

Rahim Owens

A recent column in the Courier criticized the media for unethical conduct in relation to the JonBenet Ramsey and Ennis Cosby death cases. While I understand the author’s views, I feel the author doesn’t have a grasp of the realities of being a journalist.In the first place, while the author condemns the press for its sensationalism of the two cases, she is doing the same when she makes statements like, “The gruesome shots of the Ramsey crime scene and Cosby’s body on the pavement are vivid images that will be imprinted in the public’s memory long after their bodies turn to dust.”

Really? Do we know how long that is?

She further states the two “murders” are too small to warrant a long news item. To that I say news isn’t about length but accurately informing the public. Imagining these cases aren’t that newsworthy suggests the author knows little about hard news or about readers of the news.

I can imagine the look in my editors eyes after I tell him I want to write a short piece about a recent murder because I don’t want to play it up or be unethical. Saying something like that could send me to the unemployment line.

The author goes on to suggest that the media manipulates the public by “pushing” their buttons, while “striving to reduce the line between outright speculation and facts.” These are catchy words, but again, she is sensationalizing.

If speculation is used in a story, I would hope the media using it would state or say it was speculation. This leaves it up to the public to decide what is fact and fiction in what they read.

Those who are interested in factual news will watch, listen and read reliable sources. Those interested in sensationalism will cater to such publications as the National Enquirer and watch Hardcopy.

Some individuals see news for its entertainment value, while others seek in it the truth. If a bloody picture is part of the truth, then I want to see it. Ethics are standards governing conduct, and we set these standards for ourselves.

The author’s ethical standards are presented as being high. She’s against sensationalism, but she herself sensationalizes. She’s for the truth, but she loses sight of where to draw the line between truth and fiction.

A few months ago I had to interview the parents of an accident victim. I didn’t want to bring more grief upon them, but it was my job to find the truth and present it for my readers.

News is seldom pretty; in fact, the uglier the incident the more interest the public seems to have in it. Selling information is a business. If I don’t tell the whole story as best I can, someone else will because it’s what the public wants.

Machiavelli stated “the gap between how people actually behave and how they ought to behave is so great that anyone who ignores everyday reality in order to live up to an ideal will soon discover he has been taught how to destroy himself, not how to preserve himself.”

Any one in journalism who isn’t willing to interview the victim, take the picture and tell the whole story had better consider a different line of work or become a movie critic, though that could also be construed as unethical.