You Call This News?


On the eve of Independence Day, I want to talk about freedom of the press.

More specifically, freedom to prounce around and act like journalists, blathering on about total and complete drivel. You can tell I’m going in for the kill here on female broadcasters.

It is patently absurd what anchorwomen wear these days. They look like hookers. This isn’t the Church Lady talking here, I think the disdain for the low-cut dresses and dangling earrings is fairly representative of a lot of people (okay, mostly jealous women) who probably think it’s inappropriate for journalists to wear halter top dresses on TV while they’re talking about college kids being massacred. Seems a little out of place. And leaning forward on the sofa on the set, legs crossed in the pose you learned in modeling school (both legs slanted in the same direction) even with the pained expression in your face, does not credibility make.

Oh wait! Maybe that doesn’t matter, that credibility thing. So much of what gets mashed up as news these days has so little merit, who cares about the messenger? They just need to fill. They’ve got to produce hours upon hours upon hours of so-called news. It used to be called the news hole, now it’s a bottomless pit.

But there’s rescue for the weary. There’s an on-line, three times a day, spoon feeding service journalists can subscribe to called, Help-A-Reporter-Out or HARO for short. It’s a boon to the modern day reporter in search of a source. My former assignment editor Lou at KDNL-TV called sources “tipsters” back when you had to really cultivate them and folks could still smoke in newsrooms, which is what most assignment editors spent a lot of time doing. At KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, Lisa had a Rolodex that was the envy of her assignment desk colleagues from coast-to-coast. Today, there’s HARO – a marriage made in heaven for PR practitioners looking to pitch their clients and reporters looking for a way to personalize their stories. Journalistic win-win, right?

Depends on what you consider journalism. Don’t get me wrong, the way I found out about HARO was as an author, trying to pitch myself for every conceivable media opportunity that dealt with anything even remotely related to the 15 or so keywords that my book, Off the Leash, could pivot off of — everything from “how to travel with your dog” to “how to raise kids who don’t wind up in prison.” Subject matter experts, that’s what we’re called and reporters are chompin’ at the bit, which takes us back to the win-win or the mishmash.

And that’s the problem, like seriously, a problem. The lines are so blurry now between what is news and what is unmitigated garbage, laced with a staggering amount of corporate and political bias, I am sincerely worried about how or IF enough people in this country will try to figures out what’s what. Even by their own admission, the folks who run HARO describe it as FREE publicity!

From The New York Times, to ABC News, to and everyone in between, nearly 30,000 members of the media have quoted HARO sources in their stories. Everyone’s an expert at something.

Okay, expert at something, therein lies the key. Here are a few real examples of the kinds of subject matter experts reporters on HARO are on the hunt for:

  • someone who has had a recent issue at work (approx. 135,000,000 sources here)
  • someone who is embarrassed by their spouse (better let the spouse know before the story comes out)
  • someone who is no longer attracted to their spouse (ditto)
  • someone who left a baby in a hot car (really? like who would cop to this?)
  • someone who is in to bondage (could be Cosmo or AARP on this one)

I’ll grant you that the types of news programs and publications looking for sources here runs the gamut. There are reporters and producers from esteemed organizations who are seeking credible sources on all manner of important topics so, why not help a reporter out? But some of the other reporters sniffing out stories are really impostors. They are charlatans at the gate of the fourth estate, looking to populate the pulp trade. It cheapens the whole institution of journalism — when you see them all lumped in together in the same list of queries.

And that’s what scares the hell out of me. Hopefully, thinking people, and in my heart of hearts I do believe there are more discerners than dullards, I hope that for all of our sakes, we collectively see through what constitutes news and what amounts to crap and recognize and appreciate that the real pinnacles of journalism are the ones modeling the sleeveless bullet proof vests with “PRESS” across their chests.

This is the real deal.

This is the real deal.

Can we all just take a minute to think about this tomorrow? On this quintessential flag waving day, I don’t care what your politics or religion might be, can we just take one minute and say a prayer for the Al Jazeera reporters who just last week were tried and convicted while they were caged in a Cairo courtroom? Can we pause, for just one second and consider that 71 reporters were killed last year just doing their job and that some 211 were imprisoned — all in the name of a free press. These are the true sentinels at the gate of the fourth estate, no matter what flag they are under.



About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    I completely agree. I used to make my own commentary about and TO the newscasters. Now I flip them off and go to a new channel for much of the same :)