When I was eleven years old, I got a job distributing the pertinent news and advertising information of the day. Yes, I was a Paper Boy. Remember those? That was also the time when I became so engrossed with watching the evening news on television. I was very curious about the current events and the happenings of the world outside my door and around the world. I watched the network news in the evening when all my friends wanted to watch cartoons or such nonsense.
Since then, I’ve worked for organizations of mass communications such as newspapers, radio, television, advertising, public relations, public information, freelance photojournalism, and more!
When I finished my first college degree, I majored in Mass Communication. It was essentially a degree in Broadcast Journalism/Communication, but because it was a brand new major the staffing and curriculum offered fell short of a real broadcast journalism degree. So, Mass Communication was what the degree was named.
My first professional career job out of college was as an intern with KATV-Channel 7, an ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas. The previous semester the very first Harding student to intern at KATV was assigned to be in the production department. I was the second Harding student to have an internship at KATV, but was the first to do so in the news room. At the time I had dreams and aspirations of being a news anchor… until I found out that there was a lot of deadlines, and writing, two things I was not very good at! However, I made it known that I was a semi-professional photographer and I could intern under that job description as well.
Every now and then, when no one else was available, they called my name and said, “Get a camera! I need you to...” My first assignment, besides just tagging along, was to go to a scene of a shooting and restaurant robbery and just get some film-footage. I saw what the other channels were shooting and I wanted to do something different… Big mistake on my part… I learned that day that even as a rookie intern, I could learn from others, even if they were from the competition. As I retold of my activities of the assignment I even told of some visuals of the scene, like the bullet holes!
“Great!” said the assignment editor, “let’s see the film of that.”
Sheepishly and embarrassed, I said, “Uh, well, I didn’t shoot any of that because I wanted something different than what the other channels were shooting.” I learned my station (KATV-7) didn’t have a monopoly on truth, and that even seasoned veterans from a different camp could teach me something.
Another such time was when I heard my name called the assignment needed film of what is known in the industry as a “Perp-Walk.”
“Shaner, grab a Bolex, (a silent, 16mm, motion picture film camera), and go to the Faulkner County Courthouse, there’s going to be perp walk.”
The first thing I asked was, “what’s a Perp-Walk?”
The perp in the “perp-walk,” was a suspect, or a perpetrator, (and eventual convicted), in the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Dana Diana Mize from Vilonia, Arkansas. The perp was going to be walked from the squad car to the County Jail facility and booked with charges for such crimes. I arrived at the walk site early enough to plot my steps walking backwards, frame my shot, and even opening the aperture for maximum light to expose my high-speed film at a point in the walk that was out of the daylight.
The patrol cars pulled up, the perp that was shackled in cuffs and chains slowly got out of the car and even slower, walked toward me. I executed my practice run and had an amazing, story-telling perp-walk film that eventually made the national news! Here’s a link to a journalist/blogger’s recollection of that fateful day in 1976.
Another such time was when I was the selected photographer to fly with our reporter that had a pilot’s license to cover a story in West Helena, Arkansas. The news story was an organized boycott of downtown West Helena businesses by the African American community. The reporter/pilot was probably the furthest thing from objective I’ve ever witnessed from a professional journalist. He was loud and crude in his disdain for a whole group of people that were boycotting in West Helena.
We landed at the local municipal airport and a patrol car from the West Helena Police was there to pick us up and get us back to the police station that was “ground central” for this developing story. After we sat to talk to the local law enforcement, I fired up the news camera to get an interview with the Police Chief. The reporter led the police chief to answer questions that were designed to come to a conclusion that he wanted to communicate without ever talking to anybody from the group of boycotters.
When we finished, I asked if we were going to go see the disturbance in the street? “No, he said, I’m going to stay here. I don’t believe I need their comment to write this story.”
“What??... wait, don’t you want to give them an opportunity to make a comment? They might have something important to say?” He replied, I’d bet my A** they don’t!”
I said, “OK. I’m going to go out and shoot some cover video.” As I was filming, a few of the leaders of the boycott, recognizing I was from the news station in little rock began telling me of their grievances. I decided to get this side of the story with or without my reporter. I had the camera, (a CP16 film camera), on my right shoulder, and in my left hand, the microphone with my arm stretched out as far as I could toward the spokesperson, and simply said, “Tell me what’s going on here?”
When we returned to the station in Little Rock, I quickly called the news management team together to inform them what happened. They all moaned and rolled their eyes in unison, until the News Director said, “I’ll take care of this. Let’s get back to the show preparation everybody.”
Mark Twain has often been credited with a saying about the objectivity of the news media. But, in my research I found out he apparently did not say, “If I don’t read the Newspaper, I am uninformed. If I do read the Newspaper, I am misinformed.” The media outlets of today have about as little credibility as anytime in its history.
On the other hand, I’ve never seen as much journalistic integrity as I found in a few of the reporters and anchors that I worked with at KATV. Tanya Bean, Randy Weber, Frank Thomas and I were discussing reporting, individual opinion, its place in reporting, and how do reporters and photojournalists balance their political and personal opinions… MUCH to my surprise they all told me that they do not vote - at all! They all said they didn’t so that they could maintain their objectivity and not have the temptation to slant a story towards one position or candidate over another.
To be sure, journalists, like any other legal U.S. citizen, have the right to vote.
Objectivity has to be the driving force for any journalist in reporting and telling the stories of great importance. If a journalist's is perceived to be pushing personal political beliefs it could potentially undermine their perceived impartiality. To maintain credibility, many journalists often simply choose NOT to vote in elections.
Today, I can’t find any, not even one, unbiased, tell-it-like-it-is-news-source. I try to watch them all. What may disturb me the most isn’t the, always on the attack, always negative, always one sided, (although that’s gets very tiresome very fast) but the journalistic integrity, or the lack thereof that exists in story selection. It exists not so much in what side is reported but if its reported at all. Watch the news today and see if the story line-up is even close to giving fair representation to each side of a story. The bias exists in the selectivity of what to report and what news stories to completely ignore a valid news story as if it never happened.
Seth Godin recently published a blog post that spoke of my frustration. He said,
“The gulf between network news of 1968 and cable news of today is dramatic, far more than the shift in, say, a typical sitcom. The Dick Van Dyke show is quaint, but it has a lot in common with a sitcom of today. The news, on the other hand, is completely different.
A generation ago, delivering the news was a civic duty. Now it’s a profit center.
The quick edits, the crawling text, the noise–it all exists to remind us of a thrilling movie, not of real life. And the click-baiting reality of online news multiplies that.
But real life isn’t like that. An actual house-fire or street demonstration is boring compared to what we’re shown in the media. Does the increase in drama, tension and fear that these production values create produce anything of value?
Would it be possible to be an informed citizen without it? Even more so: Is it possible to be an informed citizen with it? https://seths.blog/2021/06/production-values/
Do you like one political figure/political party Or, do you like the other political figure/party?
Irving Becker once said, “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon makes you furious. If you do like him, he could turn his plate over in your lap and you won’t mind.”
Does this describe your thoughts about the various political party’s today? Does this describe the media’s coverage you’ve seen the last six months, or the previous twenty years, (or more)?