The news media’s reputation seems to have gotten worse over the past two or three decades; in reality, though, it’s always been bad.
Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, prints of which he would peddle for money to Boston newspapers a few weeks after the event, was not even close to accurately representing what happened when British Grenadiers fired at colonists that night (the engraving shows a blue sky, by the way.) Revere’s motive was simple: anger colonists to the point of rebellion. And look at newspaper stories from the 1800s and early 1900s to see how the writers injected themselves into the story (a no-no in journalism, in theory), replete with personal commentary along the way.
The pressure to sensationalize and embellish is constant and starts early. There’s space and time to fill in print, radio, television and Web. Nothing to report is not an option. Inches and minutes must be filled with words (necessary or otherwise) even if nothing warrants more than a few sentences. Why write about a fight when you can write about a brawl, right? This is certainly apparent on the 24-hour cable news stations; recall the Flight 370 coverage for which hours, days and weeks of reporting centered on “No Signs of Missing Flight.”
Superintendent’s Profile does not and will not do this (no, someone did not accuse us of behaving like the mainstream media.) But it’s important to draw a contrast between us and them. Sure, we need to fill pages, but we’ve never done it with an exploitative “go find a problem” abandon to get people to read these stories. We’ll remain an advocate for what you do and you won’t find us canvassing your neighborhoods looking for the one guy who doesn’t like you for whatever reason.
This month’s profile is a bit unique in the sense that its subject was very forthcoming about the challenges he faced in his childhood and how those led him to where he is and how he manages today. And we went into the interview not knowing this. It’s an inspiring story, one that serves as an example of how we can make something good out of something bad, if we try.