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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

National newscasts could use a lesson from local reporters

Combative questioning, President's retaliation lead to unproductive sessions

In these confusing times, people want the information they need to handle it in a smart way. This is especially true now that we’re all starting to circulate a little more in society. And, what I see on nationally televised news is not helping very much.

I’m not seeing journalism in the manner in which I was trained, for the most part. Real journalists form their questions to follow facts, they don’t enact partisan agendas. The lines seem to be blurring more.

I’ve often defended national news networks against the likes of President Trump and comrades on the far right of the political spectrum when they spewed, “Fake News” and such, just to discredit any criticism that may arise from the reporting. The old “deflect and discredit” strategy.

Now, while I certainly haven’t pivoted to that kind of media shaming, I do share some belief that what we’re seeing is invalid.

It’s become a daily “gotcha” exercise. Right from the start, rather than phrasing a question in a straightforward manner designed for an informative response on a serious matter, it deteriorates immediately into a verbal jousting match of “he said, you said” over things that sometimes aren’t as critical as the scientific update the session is designed to provide. That’s what bugs me.

You end up with childish bickering and name calling. Increasingly, there’s plenty of blame on both sides.

What results from that scenario is a ripple effect throughout the other levels of news reporting, such as the local TV guy in New York who was at a “reopening rally” to tell the protesters’ story, not do a hit piece. He wanted to hear from them and get their message on the air, which could then be pieced with a response from local government leaders to form a balanced, informative report.

Instead, cued by their leader (President Trump) who sends a message that all reporters are bad news for America, they met the reporter with chants, almost in a Manson family cult-like cadence: “Fake News is Not Essential! Fake News is Not Essential!” and “You Are the Enemy of the People! You Are the Enemy of the People!”

So, basically, he became the story, as national networks picked up on clips from the scene and the focus, again, moved toward the ideological battleground that we’re all so tired of already. (And it’s still more than five months until election day.)

This kind of scene accomplishes nothing. Often, I don’t feel informed after a newscast. It’s more like I just watched WWE Wrestlemania.

I give credit to Iowa broadcast and print reporters for doing a better job of staying on task at Gov. Reynolds’ daily briefings. Most of the questions are well thought out and researched, making state government answer about critical issues affecting Iowans. They’re holding public officials accountable without the aggressive, combative tone. They may address a mistake, or contradiction, but it’s handled in a mature manner.

The irony for me is, sitting idle on temporary layoff, I spent 35 years grooming myself for a multi-layered crisis like this. There were the many years of sports writing and a decade of news reporting.

In news reporting, you learn so much about how society works. I covered county government and law enforcement. I’ve covered the Creston City Council, Creston Community Schools and Southwestern Community College. You learn how public funding, grants and economic development projects work in conjunction with government services.

My brief experience in covering the Greater Regional Health board several years ago allowed me to learn more about how a health care facility operates. That is extremely important now.

Through those experiences, you build relationships and trust, which opens the door for personal interviews of key leaders in probing further into a topic. Whatever organization you’re dealing with, it’s important in these times to dig beneath the carefully crafted “statements” released by media relations departments. But, to build that trust takes time, and experience.

It’s like I spent my whole life preparing for this kind of challenge. But, I get it. I’m reminded that it’s temporary.

However, it has been a great opportunity for our sports guys, Tyler Hetu and Brennen Normand, to expand their skill set for future employers while sports are idle. Nobody in journalism works harder or faster, day to day, than sports writers. It’s not uncommon to write a half-dozen stories in one night, and then lay out pages!

While they have enhanced our attempt to keep readers informed during this unusual period, I’m sure they are excited that summer sports got the green light by Gov. Reynolds beginning June 1.

Through all of this, try to separate any negative feelings about national media productions that you and I may share, from the terrific job that News Advertiser and KSIB staff members are doing at the local level.

They ARE NOT part of the “Fake News” you hear in those chants. They’re good people, trying their best to keep you informed about your community. They are the opposite of the “enemy.”

Keep supporting local journalism. This week, Centerville, Pella and Knoxville lost their local newspapers. Those folks are now left with reading larger papers in nearby Oskaloosa and Ottumwa, or not reading at all.

Don’t let it happen here.

•••

Contact the writer:

Email: malachy.lp@gmail.com

Twitter: @larrypeterson

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