Last week, in the midst of all the hand-wringing in the media over the chaos in the White House, I got an email from my friend Rocco Sacci, a longtime PR pro and also for many years a professor of public relations at St. Johns University.
Here’s some of what Rocco wrote to me…
“Reading the New York Times article (Jan. 18) about their future business plan to emphasize digitalization, the term ‘legendary media’ was used. I think it's the replacement term for ‘mainstream media,’ but I am totally underwhelmed with it.
The article was, in essence, a lot of ‘mea culpa’ on how the media just have no idea where they belong in this digitized world. Liberal press has no answer for conservative right wing media, whose talk show broadcasters talk in brief headlines, bearing little truth, but easy-to-grasp concepts. Meanwhile, the liberal media delves in lengthy treatises to explain issues too time-consuming for anyone to be able to understand their concepts.”
I’m not sure the term “legendary media” is a good one. It has the feel of oldness, staleness. Yet “mainstream media” has negative connotations now, thanks to our clueless old friend Sarah Palin and reinforced by the White House.
Whatever we call the legitimate media (hey, maybe that’s a name), they certainly do have a place in today’s world – maybe more now than ever in recent memory.
We have a White House that, so far, is operating under the cloak of secrecy, with both a president and a press secretary who openly belittle and demean the media, calling their reporting fake news and lies. It’s pretty ironic when the lies, blurred by the new name “alternative facts,” come from the White House and, has been the case for many years, the man in charge himself, going back to when he was a real estate huckster and a reality TV personality. And a few days ago the White House senior strategist and white-nationalist-in-charge told the media to “shut up.”
The majority of people are horrified by this and are turning to the legitimate media increasingly to try to get the true story. This is helping media from a revenue perspective, as they are getting more viewers and more readers both in print and online.
Thankfully, the media are hunkering down for the duration, adding more reporting staff, including investigative journalists, to get the real truth and separate it from the alternative facts that are being thrown at them and at us, the American public. The Washington Post recently announced it is adding as many as 40 staffers to its reporting staff. CNN disclosed yesterday that it is beefing up its investigative reporting unit. Other major media are taking similar steps, knowing that the public wants and needs the real news and accepting that they, the media, will have to dig harder to get it for us.
To Rocco’s point about the conservative media using sound-bite friendly talking points often with little regard for facts, while the real media often go to great pains to fully explain positions which can get tiring and boring, Joe Mandese, editor of ad trade publication MediaPost, recently wrote about that same thing. It’s prompted me to start to reach out to pros in PR and advertising, to see if we collectively can find a way to help frame often complex issues in simple, easy-to-digest terms so even FOX News viewers might understand it.
I have said here many times that the free press is a crucial underpinning to our democracy – something that our Constitution provides for and protects. The media help keep the politicians, whether conservative or liberal, honest and accountable.
We need them to do their job and, finally, it seems they are doing it. And they need us to support them.