Sunday, November 04, 2007

Why media matters even when it stinks

Reports out of Pakistan indicate that the president has declared a state of emergency, instituted martial law, dismissed most of the Supreme Court and is going after his political opponents. One of the first things he did after these frightening moves was to go after private media outlets to try to prevent them from reporting on what's happening. Details below.

'Hand Over Your Broadcast Equipment': Pakistan Stifles Media, Cuts Phone Lines - Foreign Governments Have Criticized President Musharraf's Moves

This points out the power of media in times of crisis. Hard to remember that in America's crime and celebrity-driven news coverage. When I traveled in Europe, my husband and I both remarked how much more in-depth, investigative and relevant news coverage was there.

This story struck a chord with me because my first career was in TV news and I loved the immediacy of it, being able to tell people's stories, and being able to connect people through those stories. I also felt the power of media and news to make a difference in people's lives by spotlighting injustice or inequality.

But those moments became fewer and farther between the longer I was in news. I also disliked how constrained news could be: usually, the only stories that were deemed worthy of coverage involved turmoil, negativity and what I liked to call "routine mayhem."

When I got out of news years ago, one of the final straws for me was having a somewhat substantive story bumped off the early 5pm news by coverage of a local man buying the rights to bring a Krispy Kreme franchise to the region - in five years. Yes, really. My station even had donuts flown in for that night's newscast from the nearest Krispy Kreme, which was out of state.

The person covering the story had been recently hired for the anchoring position I desperately wanted at the time. To add insult to ridiculousness, I was asked to help her put the story together because "she's not a very strong writer." Wow. There are not many jobs that will hire you even if you can't perform the duty the makes up 85% of the job. Yeah, I'm still a little bitter.