What's this blog really about?

You may notice a variety of topics here - from business, to charity promotion, even to local news, but the primary reason this blog was created was to alert readers to the hostile atmosphere and sexual harassment at The Danville Register & Bee. The readers and creator of this blog want a FULL FRONT PAGE apology in the Danville Register & Bee, plus the disciplining of those individuals involved. Until then, we'll continue to post regular updates. To tolerate THIS kind of behavior by a major media network is intolerable. And this isn't just ONE instance. Media General has been sued nationwide for racism and sexism, yet they CONTINUE to keep the offenders employed. Why? And why am I doing this? TRUTH compels me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Racism, decency and control

I haven't quite figured out why Media General is so resistant to just doing the right thing. There's not enough media outrage yet I suppose - OH WAIT!!! They ARE the media! They CONTROL the media. If they don't want the public to know about what's happening inside their hallowed walls - no one will!

Now - do you see how the media works and why freedom of speech is so critical. If YOU allow your media - any media - in New York, DC, anywhere - to control the content of your lives - then you are all slaves. Wake up America. I know you don't realize the threat that is unfolding as the government begins to get MORE involved in the media - but we're in a critical time in history. When one corporation, such as Media General can control and silence something like a reporter filming women's breasts and flashing it around a newsroom and a management that tolerates it and everything else - then don't you wonder what else they're keeping quiet about?

Do you understand that if the traditional MEDIA is the only people get their news, or become informed then those that CONTROL THE MEDIA, like Media General - control your lives? If Media General decides that the only stories they want to run about Blacks involve black gangs, shootings and robberies then the MEDIA controls how the population sees/perceives Blacks. Their editorials, their news - all the ways they get to decide what aspect of African Americans people see gives them more power than the plantation owners of this area.

Don't you get it? Gangs and Black violence may make up 10% of the population but if the paper reports it 100% of the time....readers don't know that.

The KINDS of stories and the way in which they are written impact YOUR businesses, your schools, your kids, your city government, your local politics. Don't you realize that? You should. IF you don't, then stop and think about it. This is exactly WHY Public Relations folks are so adamant about controlling the information they release. They know that PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING.

I LOVE the two egg and bacon special at the Schoolfield Diner on West Main St. Bill, the owner, is a great guy and he's a Danville icon. This old diner has been around 70+ years and has seen Danville's heydays and its downturns. When Dan River Mills was open he stayed open 24 hours a day. Not anymore. But he has great hot dogs and the atmosphere and interior of the place hasn't changed in 70 years. It's classic - not by design, but because it's original. If you want that old time feel of a diner where the men behind the counter still wear those little paper hats and aprons and everything is polished stainless steel then stop by there. Tell him Becky Blanton, formerly from the Danville Register & Bee sent you.

That's all true. Fact. Every word of it.

That's the good kind of news. If you're a business you like that kind of positive news. But what happens when it's not good? You want to keep it out of the paper. If you rent your conference center out and there's a wedding or birthday party there and someone gets shot (as has happened) and the newspaper only writes about that - then how do people perceive your place? Dangerous.

They won't consider it next time they're looking for a place to host a reception. So what do you do? You try to keep it out of the news and to downplay it so your business isn't hurt. That's almost impossible to do since the newspaper knows that readers LOVE to read about shootings. So they send someone over to snap a photo of your business and to get a quote which they'll add to a story they get from a police press release and THAT is what all of Danville will know about it.

The MEDIA gets to control ALL the content, the photos - everything. Scary huh? If you're a big advertiser the editor may think - well, we don't want to piss them off and lose their advertising, so I'll bury that story on an inside page and I won't run a photo with it. They're not supposed to think that way. They're supposed to think - Wow! This is really critical news and evaluate it based on that. A responsible editor will weigh the event in terms of long term impact, perception and truth and perspective.

Big advertisers know this and will threaten the paper with pulling their ads. The problem is - there is no alternative source for them to advertise in - so it works for a few weeks until their business begins to fall off. Then they grumble and moan but they start advertising again. They have to. Newspapers know this. There's a built-in buffer. The only time it really hurts the paper is when a story angers everyone and all the advertisers pull their ads!

If the businesses whose employees/owners for instance were angry over say, their employees having their breasts filmed without their consent.....decided to pull their ads - for three months or more - things could get uncomfortable at a newspaper. So - advertisers and consumers do have some serious control - they just never exercise it. America's founding fathers knew this. That's why we have "checks and balances" in our government. The interplay allows all parties to have control and on one group to have total control over the factors that affect them. When advertisers and consumers don't act - the power the media has just gets stronger.

For instance, going back to our hypothetical shooting - if that has been the fifth shooting there in three months - that information alone suggests something is going on there. A good editor will have a reporter look into WHY there are so many shootings and write stories based on what a media investigation finds is happening. Perhaps it is the only incident there in the history of the business. For ten years this has been a safe place. Then someone gets shot.

Well - that's probably a random act of violence that could have happened anywhere because of the people involved. So the story reflects that. The reporter's "angle" is one of, "A random act of domestic violence left one dead at one of Danville's most tranquil conference centers yesterday." See the difference? THAT is why Public Relations companies are called in. They know how to "Spin" a story so that a bad incident - even if it is not the company's fault - is placed in a light that impacts them the least.

What really happens when there's a shooting? A reporter is sent out to get a photo of something - anything - preferably a photo with a uniform, fire, crumpled car or broken glass - something to intrigue the viewer and entice them to buy the newspaper. The reporter stands around like everyone else at the scene - only they have a camera and notebook. They write down what they see, maybe talk to an officer - get a quote - any quote so we can show we "talked" to someone at the scene. Then we go back, badger the officer on duty for more information, or another quote or a press release. Then we put that together and PRESTO! A story. That's what you're reading. They aren't the investigator or the expert. They have a little bit more information, but not much. The police reports are posted online. You can read what the police say there yourself. What don't you get when this is how they report? You don't get the personal angle.

When I did a story months ago on a man who was beaten and robbed by teenagers at a local hotel, that could have been a standard press release/quote piece. But I decided to track the victim down, go out there, interview him and get HIS STORY. It made all the difference in his life. The VFW, local churches - lots of people came forward to HELP. That's what good journalism does. It brings communities together. But with "convergence" there's no time to do that. The Danville Register & Bee is cutting positions and reporters to show a profit. They don't care about you - the community. Don't you see that? They are a BUSINESS. Unlike YOUR business however, THEIR business can make or break you, intentionally or not.

When the school board superintendent withholds information from the press about anything negative - he's not hiding the facts as much as he's trying to avoid the tremendous impact he knows negative media can have. Sometimes that's good and sometimes its not. When schools, businesses, politicians make decisions that impact people the facts and the reasons behind their decisions NEED to be made public. When the media is overworked and understaffed - there are plenty of opportunities for mistakes to be made. At a good paper there would be an "Education Reporter." That person's beat would be education. They would develop sources and a professional relationship that enabled them to do the kind of in-depth reporting on schools and education that the public could benefit from. When you're covering 20 things instead of just one - that's not possible.

When you have the same territory to cover but half or one-third of the people to cover it with, mistakes are made. There's no time to be as careful because you have to get out the story. It's insanity.

In a city where there are good journalists and good media - presenting the facts in a neutral way can help citizens make decisions that improve their city. When the media is overworked, there's no time to investigate the facts or reach everyone involved but there's still a need to "feed the beast" ( A term news folks use to describe the great yawning maw of filling the pages and the television hour with news - any news just to FILL the space/time).

Good news is about MORE than just getting both sides of the story. Ask any cop about how helpful "Getting both sides" of a story in a domestic assault is. You don't get facts. You get two sides screaming about THEIR PERCEPTION of an event - not the facts.

When a reporter gets a comment from Gov. Kaine about gun control then pairs it with comments from passionate gun control advocates - that's not both sides of a story. Telling the real story involves looking into the history of an issue - seeing what was done before, how it's done now, how changes will impact the current population, what experts or leaders have to say when shown that historical evidence and adding some quotes and some links (for online media) to sites that provide even more information and facts. THAT'S how good journalism is done.

It's not supposed to be a free-for-all where the most articulate speaker - the person with the best sound bites or quotes, or the prettiest or meanest or stupidest is portrayed in order to subtly sway the story - "advocacy journalism."

Now, knowing that the media is powerful enough to impact your business, your community, your life - (yes your life. If you are arrested for DUI and found not guilty that Not Guilty charge doesn't end up in the paper...but your DUI is history. Unless someone looks it up on the internet and tracks down the conviction - that fact is linked to you forever. Newspapers don't follow up on that stuff) how comfortable do you feel?

What about corrections? Hundreds of them made every day in every newspaper in the country. Don't believe me? CLICK HERE to go to www.regrettheerro.com to see just how many errors newspapers across the country make EVERY DAY. What if this was your business? Would you want a little box on the bottom of an inside page? When I owned my newspaper I posted all my corrections on the FRONT page where readers could see them. If was my error - I owned it.

Yes, this is a long post - but I feel very strongly about the fact that readers across the country are NOT getting the news they need. Media is changing, and not for the better. More than ever people need to learn to check alternate sources for information. Anonymous blogs aren't the answer. If you have something to say - then put your name to it and say it. Develop credibility and accountability. THEN you'll get readers. THEN you'll make a difference.

No comments: