By Joseph Meier
Trust in the media is at an all-time low, according to the Pew Research center, as journalists compete with social media and face layoffs.
At the University of South Florida, speakers and staff tell the story of the death of an entire medium as they suggest students be thrifty, just in case they lose their jobs.
Students are taught to do everything from writing their own stories to producing their own videos, to sending out their own tweets.
Amid this storm of tasks, students are told they must be accurate and quick on the draw with a story, but accuracy and speed together make fertile ground for mistakes.
Students are told to check their biases, while cable news channels are flaunting their partisanship. Journalists in the news media abandon their ethics to garner an audience with infotainment.
Prospects of the future of news have been bleak during my time here at the USF. I am about to graduate, and I am more confused about the nature of news media now than I was when I enrolled.
I have seen the macro-level problems in media, but what is life like in the daily grind of being a journalist? I owe it to myself to find out before I abandon this craft completely.
Mark Schreiner works at WUSF Public Media on the USF campus, and he is an assistant news director and an intern coordinator. His experience might give me the answer I need.
“On a daily basis I am located in the newsroom,” Schreiner said. “So, I work with our anchors and reporters to decide what we are going to be covering and what we’ll be putting on the air.”
Schreiner’s job sounds straightforward. He is an assistant producer, so he assists the producer and makes things happen. But his responsibilities at WUSF are much more dynamic.
Schreiner said he also writes and edits new stories, works logistics and even has his own feature called University Beat. He helps the interns at WUSF and even recruits future employees.
“My day basically starts as soon as I wake up in the morning,” Schreiner said. “I’m just looking to see story assignments during the day, figuring out what people beneath me are going to be working on.”
Schreiner jumps from task to task taking up different positions as he goes along. Schreiner likes his job but admits it get a little exhausting.
“I told my receptionist, yah know, I walk in the door and I’m already tired,” Schreiner said.
The workflow may be demanding, but Schreiner said that it was even worse when he was working for a national radio station.
“I remembered when I got done just how exhausting breaking news is,” Schreiner said. “It reminded me why I’m no longer in the 24-hour news business.”
Therein lies the issue. Schreiner said that if he stayed on national radio, he would have burnt out in 15 years.
News has changed since then and not for the better. Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize winner and contributing editor of City Journal, paints a sobering picture what the news is like today.
Miller asserts that declining ad revenue has led to news outlets cutting staff in a time where there are more stories than journalists.
“The lack of information from professional journalists has been filled by a new source—social media and the blogosphere,” Miller says in a Prager University video.
Miller goes further and says the bias in the media is the result of deprived media outlets trying to garner an audience.
“Many sites, including mainstream sites, have abandoned traditional journalistic practices and standards in search of more and more ‘eye-balls.’” Miller said.
Even comedians are citing the issues in journalism, sometimes with depth and accuracy. John Oliver lays out his case on his HBO show.
He points out how rich owners have been buying news outlets and how that hurts journalistic independence. He addresses the elephant in the room for this issue—it is our fault.
“A big part of the blame for this industries’ dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce,” Oliver said on Last Week Tonight.
Oliver may be an entertainer, but his points are well supported, and his opinion is solid. Less money equals bad journalism.
People like Schreiner, however, keep grinding it out daily and do it with a “once more into the breach dear friends” attitude.
To deal with a shrinking staff and a heavy workload Schreiner said, “Learn a little bit about everything.” He said that aspiring journalists need to be versatile.
“Learn how to pick up little skills from everything,” Schreiner said. “It just makes you that much more valuable.”
To deal with bias in the media, Schreiner simply said, “You need to watch your own bias.” This is especially needed today.
Schreiner acknowledged the weight one bad media outlet carries when it comes to credibility, but he said, “You do what you can do and accept it.” He did not stop there.
“It’s something we need to keep an eye on,” Schreiner said. “We need to control it in our newsrooms.”
These words may seem trivial, but there is wisdom here. Sometimes the big answers we seek require the simplest answers. We just do not realize it because our perspective is out of focus.
I have been looking at the problems facing journalism at the macro level. I have thought that these problems require an answer that is just as broad-sweeping as the problem. I now think I am wrong.
The only things I have control over are my internal thoughts and my external actions. Although they seem small and inconsequential, our thoughts and actions are where change starts.
What would happen if I just stopped thinking about the problems facing journalism and focused on being a good journalist?
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler,” Philosopher Henry David Thoreau said.