J500 Media and the Environment

Week 4: Objectivity meets government, families and exiles? by monicadela

I remember the 2000 coverage of Elián González. Tensions between Cuba and the U.S. were at an all-time high. Miami, my hometown, was a boilerplate of emotions. The two points of contention were keeping the boy in the U.S. with relatives or returning him to his father in Cuba. Objectivity couldn’t be more of a challenge in a mix of a politics, family and a community of exiles. The media’s appetite for coverage, from repetitive television reports to endless magazine covers, made this case one as equally appropriate for media textbooks as for immigration law. At the center of it all was a border-less boy who went from an impoverished country to a yard surrounded by cameras and reporters. Do I even have to ask if the media fueled the controversy?

Video courtesy of http://www.youtube.com.

The media sets the tone for what the majority of us are aware of and concerned about. For the past week, it’s been Michael Jackson. There’s an adage about what’s left out of a camera shot being as important as what’s in focus. The same applies to reporting. What hasn’t been covered in the wake of what’s been deemed newsworthy? Consider the tenants of newsworthiness — timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest — and how they vary from publisher to reporter to reader/viewer. In a culture that’s become so audibly opinionated — blogs, social networks, reality TV — is objectivity even a consideration anymore? There are more pundits than reporters, more infotainment than investigation.

So, while journalists are charged as watchdogs, it’s up to the audience to judge if their sources have more bark than bite.

And, I wonder if, for fifteen-year-old Elián, America is synonymous with the flash of cameras?

-Monica D.-


5 Comments so far
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Great post. I particularly agree with your statement, “There’s an adage about what’s left out of a camera shot being as important as what’s in focus.” I think it’s important for the media to show as much as possible so as to not be objective but fair in their reporting.

I also liked your question as to whether or not objectivity is considered in blogs and social networking. I found an AP article (http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/221308/are_ethics_missing_in_citizen_journalism.html) that talks about the responsibilities of citizen journalism that I thought was interesting. Today, virtually anyone can be a “journalist” through blogging and other online means, but just because people are doing it does not mean they are doing it responsibly, ethically or objectively.

Finally, I think the focus on infotainment you mentioned has hurt the credibility and objectivity of professional journalism today. Elian’s story was no doubt newsworthy but I feel it was almost turned into an infotainment piece by the amount of media coverage he received.

-Erin P.

Comment by erinleap

Hi Erin,

Credibility is an important facet in analyzing objectivity. Who do we see as credible? Is it based on education, experience, appearance, entertainment or the media outlet (NBC, CNN, “The New York Times,” etc.)?

The availability of information and the empowerment of the citizen journalist have radically changed how we obtain and perceive the news. In an article titled “Blogging, Journalism and Credibility,” Rebecca MacKinnon of “The Nation” stated:

“First of all, there has been and there is a power shift going on: from the producers of media to the people formerly known as the audience. That’s what I like to call them, because they’re not really an audience anymore. And terms like “audience” and “consumer” and “viewer” and “reader”–which have become threaded into journalism–aren’t really that accurate for the people on the other end of the process. So there has been a power shift from producers to users, mostly because of the Internet.” (March 17, 2005)

I remember learning about purpose, audience and medium in J-school. Well, when the audience is as much a reader as a consumer (especially in this economy), how can “nitty gritty” reporting compete with infotainment?

Monica D.

Comment by monicadela


I totally agree with the idea of widening the scope of what’s presented. I remeber watching this coverage when I was in high school and not only wondering how this would affect the way other people thought about Elian but the way he would think about himself.

He was so young. When I think back to that age, I remember being in a state of mind where I believe or tried to immitate pretty much everything I saw on television. With that in mind, I wondered “Will this kid grow up without a sense of belonging or community?” Sociology tells us that we are tied not only to our physical self but to our social and emotional selves which are so dependent on society. So how, I wonder, is would this kid ever adjust?

*Trey Williams*

Comment by TreyW

Hi Monica. I especially like this point you made: “There are more pundits than reporters, more infotainment than investigation.” The reference to “infotainment” especially struck a chord, as I’ve noticed over the past several years that the line is blurring between entertainment and news. For example, I watch “Today” regularly but lately they seem to cover topics way outside the types of news I look to them for…such as Spencer and Heidi from “The Hills” being interviewed by Al Roker, etc. I love pop culture and celebrity news, but I don’t see Today as the source for that – I look to “Us Weekly” or eonline.com. Why do you think mainstream, traditional news have become so celebrity and entertainment focused? Has our society become so celebrity focused that we can’t handle real news anymore?
-Jennifer E.

Comment by jenniferedw

Hey Monica-

I believe most people would admit the media fuels controversy in cases like Elián González or Terri Schiavo life support controversy <. But melodramatic news coverage is only has powerful as society lets it become.

Media would have stopped exploiting an innocent Cuban boy or a 41-year-old brain-damaged woman if our society would have vetoed interest in those stories. These are real people, with real families being faced with decisions, not a soap opera. Furthermore these people are not celebrities or professional athletes; they didn’t consciously decide to make their lives public entertainment or interest.

“If it bleeds, it leads” is a timeless saying among reporters for a reason—because it’s true. We, as a society, need to use better ethical judgment when it comes to feeding the media. If we stop buying it then they’ll selling it. The media’s job is to cover public interest; why are we so interested in things of this nature? What does that say about the world we live in?

And by the way, in 2007 CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported Elian has spent the past eight years living in Cuba with his father, now a member of the Cuban National Assembly. His “American” home is a museum today. Relatives have moved on and rarely talk to the media.

Beth Davis

Comment by bethd

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