A few days ago, it was time to make resolutions for the new year. Now it is time to rue, or rationalize, those already broken. Tempus fugit; resolve weakens.
At the end of last week’s edition of Fox News Watch, I asked viewers to e-mail the program not their resolutions, but those they would like the media to make — and not break — in 2004. The response was overwhelming. People who watch television news are resolute in their conviction that journalists need to reform.
The most common theme was that the media should be more objective — “more straight reporting, less analysis by reporters,” is what Jerre from Floresville, Texas, would like to see this year; Valli from Mesa, Ariz., wants “to see less talking heads and more actual news. I’m smart enough to form my own opinion!”; and Betty from Brigham City, Utah, wants the media to “leave out ideological viewpoints and report the news, fair and balanced.”
Bob, from Bunnell, Fla., asks a lot from the media in 2004: “Honesty, objectivity, compassion, nationalism, no political correctness, [and the] end of worthless stories after initial report, i.e. Laci Peterson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson.” He also wants to hear less “silly music” on newscasts.
Sheila, from Merritt Island, picks up on one of her fellow Floridian’s points: “If the main character in the story is Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant or Scott Peterson, please let us know when the trial begins, and tell us what the verdict is at the end. NOTHING in between, please. I’m getting tired of changing channels every time I hear one of those names.”
So is Greg from Pittsburgh, Pa.: “Can you create a separate channel for Michael Jackson so I don’t have to keep changing the channel?”
Martha, from Chesapeake, Va., has a longer list, one specifically geared to our program. She requests that Fox News Watch take “an occasional look at college newspapers, and a look at the culture of journalism programs that are training our future journalists.” She wants “a segment on international takes on current stories and comments on how free the press is in other countries.” And she wants “the addition of a new panelist, even if just as an occasional guest at first, of an ethnic group to ‘integrate’ the panel since so often race is touched on as it relates to journalism.”
Gina from Albion, Ill., also has a suggestion for Fox News Watch: “Why not have weekly prize giveaways? Viewers could register via e-mail and each week, a different panelist could draw a name. The prizes wouldn’t have to be anything grand — maybe a hat or coffee mug signed by the ‘crew’? Anyway, I think that would definitely spice up the show and probably drum up some new fans as well. If you didn’t want to invest in your own show merchandise, you could always take some stuff from Bill O’Reilly. I think he has plenty.”
Obviously, some of the suggestions are a little more serious than others.
But all of them, with the exception of Fox News Watch’s giving away bric-a-brac, demonstrate the increasing interest that Americans seem to have not just in the news, but in the way news is presented. Or slanted or sensationalized or trivialized or ignored or over-emphasized. All of the suggestions demonstrate that those people to whom the news is presented are becoming savvier about journalism, and less patient with what they perceive to be the journalism’s shortcomings.
Men and women in the field, including the five of us on Fox News Watch, need to make, and keep, a few of our viewers’ resolutions before yet another new year turns old.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).