Negativism of journalism?

Question: In the May 2 Parade in the "Ask Marilyn" section, she noted the results of her unofficial survey: what infuriates us most. Marilyn indicated that half of the 7,000 readers replies said that "society today" was the cause of their infuriation "noting their disgust with what they see and hear." My question is: what, if anything, does the S-R plan to do about this? The negativism of journalism is talked about a lot. It appears that the media slant on things DOES have an giant inpact on people. What do you see as your responsibility? -- Barb Shaw

Answer: Our responsibility is to reflect the life of our communities every day in all of their wholeness and complexity. Some of what we report is positive and uplifting. Some of it is not. We strive for a balance, always aware that our journalism does have an impact on how people view their community. That's our responsibility. But in this "chicken or the egg" argument, I don't accept the notion that the media are responsible for the "negativism" of our lives. In reflecting community life, we reflect all of the psychosis, paranoia, dysfunction, negativity and unrest that permeates our society. (We also reflect the courage, selflessness, civic spirit and can-do positiveness that exists in balance with the negative.)

There are numerous sources for the state of our communal psychology, and the media, to the extent that term has any meaning, is only one of many.

I don't view media as a monolithic entity. The Spokesman-Review is as different from The Seattle Times as Spokane is different from Seattle. Different newspapers and newspaper editors will make vastly different editorial decisions given the same set of facts on the same day. The wide range of voices, attitudes, frames and ideas makes it impossible for newspapers, as one component of the media, to drive public psychology on any sort of far-reaching basis. Now, I can't speak for the influence of broadcast, that's not my field. And if you choose to include entertainment media in any definition of the larger media, then I'm truly out of my depth.

Last point...I'm not sure I'd take the Parade survey too seriously. It's not based on a statistically balanced sample and respondents will be skewed heavily to the oldest newspaper readers who also happen to be the largest group of Parade readers. A true statistically balanced study might produce similar results, but there also are a number of recent studies that indicate Americans are somewhat more optimistic about their lives today than we were in years past, war nothwithstanding. -- Steve Smith, editor

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