Monday, February 13, 2012

Perspectives And Truth

We're fairly sure that most of you have heard by now that singing sensation and pop music icon Whitney Houston passed away over the weekend. Though the exact cause of death remains a mystery, it was no mystery to us why it took the media as long as it did to report the event.

We and others have mentioned it many times, sadly; corporate media no longer wants to pay for live staff members on weekends and overnights - even in the so-called 24-hour news business. As big a star as Whitney Houston once was, and as much as she still meant to pop music, when Ms. Houston died Saturday afternoon, it wasn't until Saturday evening that the Associated Press released the first official report of her death.

Even in the midst of a such a sad occasion for many in the music business, her death did provide a note of positivity for some of us.

When the AP sent out its initial news blast about Ms. Houston's death, over Twitter, Facebook, and other more standard news channels, the first reaction we saw from those we know OUTSIDE the media industry wasn't to automatically accept the news at face value. Sure, they trusted the word coming from the AP - a news organization that has earned and mostly continues to earn a great deal of trust.

However, a surprising number of our friends also acted like REAL journalists themselves, attempting to verify the news from a second source, unrelated to the first, before accepting it as factual. We saw a blistering flow of Facebook and Twitter messages, and received several texts and e-mails, that said things like, "I checked CNN - no Whitney news. Just recd prgm," or "Saw it on ABC News - but they're just quoting AP. Keep looking."

At a moment of sadness for many, people who have never been journalists were following the old-fashioned journalistic rules that we we hold in very high regard. Trust, but verify. Use multiple, unrelated sources. Make sure the facts are clear before you react. Then, you can react.

From the time the AP news brief hit, until the time ANY of the cable news networks spoke of it was easily thirty minutes. Some of them took nearly an hour. The TV network news bureaus responded more rapidly than their cable partners, surprisingly. Some radio stations around the nation were also surprisingly fast, shifting into playing blocks of Ms. Houston's music by mid-evening, some with produced liners already.

The point of our media self-reflection today isn't to pat anyone on the back, or even to be maudlin about Ms. Houston. It's to point out the need for all of us, in the media, to step up to where our audience is now.

There are so many issues of MAJOR importance happening in our world now, that our listeners and readers want and need us - now more than ever - to be ready to give them accurate, truthful, honest information, at any time.

Just in politics, this week alone, the payroll tax extension will be discussed and heavily debated. It could mean $40 less in every paycheck the rest of the year for working Americans, if Republicans refuse to compromise with Democrats and the President. Today, the President is also releasing his proposed budget for 2013 - which Republicans have been saying will be DOA before they've even seen it. It's actually a fairly balanced plan, with both additional budget cuts and tax increases on the richest Americans, who are the only ones who can still afford it.

The Federal highway budget bill will also come up for votes this week, with the President and the Senate - including some Republicans - on one side, and the highly partisan Republican-led House on the other. In short, the extremist House Republicans want to do to Federal highway funding what they're currently doing with the Payroll Tax; make it a political issue they can hold hostage regularly.

Without a media that's actually taking their responsibilities seriously, Republican extremists will use that same method on everything that comes before them, as they have for some time now. Specifically, they hijack the rest of their party, hold the rest of the country hostage, throw a tantrum until they get all or part of their way, while the entire time saying whatever anyone else proposes is garbage - even if they don't have a plan of their own.

The truth can no longer wait. Our audience is not sitting back passively any more. If we don't do our jobs? People will no longer need us. If that means a media company has to sacrifice the highly bloated salaries of a few questionably worthwhile executives so that they can actually staff the business they claim to be running, that's a small price to pay to make sure the truth arrives before the lies fill the void.

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