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Carolers not so joyous about media being there

| December 5, 2020 1:00 AM

Suspicion. Skepticism. Hostility.

Those are a few words to describe the reception I received from several people when covering carolers singing near The Coeur d’Alene Resort on Friday night.

Now, that might seem surprising. After all, aren’t these folks full of the holiday spirit, peace, joy and love? Aren’t they there to sing happy songs of the season?

Well, yes and no.

Some, indeed arrived to sing, disappointed that The Coeur d’Alene Resort had to cancel its fireworks and lighting ceremony due to the coronavirus. And some were there to prove a point, that no one can tell them what they can and can’t do. And others said they wanted to share the love of Christ.

But there was a common denominator: The arrival of the media, that being The Coeur d’Alene Press, was not exactly received with open arms.

Several people, when asked, said they did not want their pictures taken and did not want to speak to the media.

One man angrily confronted The Press for taking pictures of his children, who were part of a big crowd.

Another woman said she had dealings with media members in the past and didn’t trust them to accurately report what was said and in fact, if she read the story the next day and it wasn't accurate, she might protest outside The Press.

Another woman began following The Press around and taking pictures of the reporter.

And yet one woman, while agreeing to speak to The Press, was adamant she would not provide her name, even when asked a softball question, why she wanted to be part of this caroling event.

I admit, it bothered me to feel a bit unwelcome. It was clear many wondered what the media was really doing there, what story were we trying to spin, what social unrest were we trying to create.

I don’t blame them for being suspicious and skeptical. The media, not all, but too many, no longer just report what we see, what people say. Too many reporters and editors like to include opinions because they think their opinion is so important and everyone needs to know and share their opinion.

My brother recently asked me, “Aren’t you offended when President Trump says the media is fake news? That you have an agenda?”

No, I told him. I wish I could say he’s completely wrong, but he’s not. The media, like any profession, has people who do their job well, and those who don’t. There is news that’s one-sided, slanted, that refuses to report some things because they are allegedly not fully verified, and leap to publish others based entirely on anonymous sources that backup their agenda. Too many wire news stories that come our way here at The Press are opinion pieces disguised as news.

More and more people are no longer sure they can trust what the media tells them.

Courthouse News had this to say in August:

A survey released shows Americans’ trust of the news media is declining even though they still see the institution as invaluable to democracy, indicating growing skepticism toward what many see as journalists straying from objectivity in the internet age.

The report, assembled by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, surveyed 20,000 Americans as part of the firms’ Trust, Media and Democracy series, and it found that Americans are more pessimistic than ever about a perceived lack of objectivity in news coverage from a media apparatus driven by barely concealed agendas.

“With each passing benchmark study,” the report said, “the American people render deeper and increasingly polarized judgments about the news media and how well it is fulfilling its role in our democracy.”

Even though the Knight/Gallup poll found 84% of Americans say the news media is either critical or very important for a functioning democracy, 49% of those surveyed think the media is very biased and roughly three-quarters believe the owners of media companies are influencing coverage. The latter statistic is up 5 percentage points since 2017.

Gallup said this in September

At a time when Americans are relying heavily on the media for information about the coronavirus pandemic, the presidential election and other momentous events, the public remains largely distrustful of the mass media. Four in 10 U.S. adults say they have "a great deal" (9%) or "a fair amount" (31%) of trust and confidence in the media to report the news "fully, accurately, and fairly," while six in 10 have "not very much" trust (27%) or "none at all" (33%).

Currently, 40% have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the mass media, and 60% have not very much or none at all.

Gallup first asked this question in 1972 and has continued to do so nearly every year since 1997. Trust ranged between 68% and 72% in the 1970s, and though it had declined by the late 1990s, it remained at the majority level until 2004, when it dipped to 44%. After hitting 50% in 2005, it has not risen above 47%.

So what can the media do to improve? It ain’t rocket science. Report what happens and leave out opinion. Get the facts. Get the quotes right. Be fair. Be objective. Get both sides, whether you like them or not. Stop letting personal viewpoints influence how we do our job.

I think The Coeur d’Alene Press, for what my opinion is worth since I work here, does a good job under Managing Editor Mike Patrick of staying in the middle of the road. We often have liberals and conservatives accusing us of favoring the other. That’s a good sign.

A final note.

When I came to work Monday, there was a message. It was from a woman who declined to be interviewed during Friday’s caroling and was, actually, pretty rude about it. She called to apologize. She said she read the story, said it was accurate, reported what went on and included quotes from several people. She did not, she said, reflect the love of Christ and for that, she was sorry.

That was the first time in a long career in journalism someone called to apologize for their words and behavior when I interviewed them.

I appreciated it.

But we in the media, based on those surveys and polls, still have more work to do to earn your trust. We want carolers to spread Christmas cheer — not be suspicious of a reporter.

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Bill Buley is assistant managing editor of The Press. He can be reached at (208) 416-5110.