On searching for dignity

Television news is in search of ratings. More than anything.

It’s not about journalistic integrity, or a dedication to informing the community. It’s ratings, only, above all, without question. It’s programming, not journalism; entertainment, not scholarship.

I often forget this fact until it’s thrown in my lap.

Yesterday, a friend was arrested for intentional damage to property and aggravated assault. (Not a close friend, but a friend all the same.) I don’t know the details any more than anyone else. I do know that is a good guy.

I also know that he has had mental health problems in his past. Reportedly, they seemed to have begun developing again.

The offenses are indefensible. He walked through his neighborhood and struck at windows with a shovel. Eventually, he threatened a human being. No motive, no cause. Just a mixed up mind, I suspect.

But the coverage by a local station was even more indefensible.

“Neighbors say they’ve had a few interactions with the suspect, just to know he was a little off…”

“It’s really weird that the one [neighbor] I happened to meet ends up being the crazy one.”

“Definitely get to know your neighbors. Too bad you can’t get a background check on them beforehand.”

Snickers. The slo-mo perp walk. Obviously biased interviews. Just another story about another crazy guy, so let’s see what we’ve got for weather!

Whether it’s the Wheel of Justice or a habit of trivializing tragedy to point out fault, the heavy handed holier-than-thou approach that local television news programs take when reporting is contrary to the very core of good journalism.

Of treating every story with dignity. Every person with decency. Every news item with respect.

It’s all part of the news cycle on television, keeping us up to date on the ridiculousness of life, looking for the angle in every story whether or not it’s decent to do so, chuckling along as they shake their heads, saying, “Life might suck, but at least you’re not as screwed up as THAT guy.”

It’s all a big joke, until you realize it’s someone you know.

Today, the Argus Leader printed their version of the story. Just the fact. No assumption. No cute cracks about crazy people.

Because cute cracks about crazy people don’t belong in journalism.

Print may be dying, but I’ll take its dignity over television’s sensationalism any day.

“I believe that the journalism which succeeds the best-and best deserves success-fears God and honors man … seeks to give every man a chance, and as far as law, an honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance … is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.”
-Walter Williams

This was lovingly handwritten on January 14th, 2009