Former New York Times and Washington Post journalist Richard Halloran spoke at Saint Mary’s Thursday to discuss a variety of myths that the public holds about the media.
Halloran covered seven particular myths about which he felt the public should be aware.
“This is not a happy time for journalism for our country. Let me turn to what I call the seven myths of the media,” Halloran said. “The first myth: that there is an institution called media; the second myth: most people get their news from television; the third: the myth about the power of the press; the fourth: the press and TV report only bad news; the fifth: liberals dominate the media; the sixth: media jeopardizes national security by printing leaks and unauthorized disclosures; and seven: Internet has changed the media’s coverage.”
There is no institution called the media, he said. Instead, there are various outlets to cover the news, Halloran said.
“It is impossible to generalize from this conglomeration of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV outlets,” Halloran said.
Halloran also discussed which outlets the public utilized to obtain the news. The community believed that television is the most common way to attain information is by the use of television.
“The audience for television networks has been falling sine the early 1980s,” Halloran said. “The Columbia Journalism Review reports that only 11 percent of Americans consider television to be their primary source of news.”
Another common misconception is that the media has power when in reality the media simply has the capacity to influence it’s audience. According to Halloran, there is a distinct difference between power and influence.
“Myth number three is the ancient slogan about the power of the press. Ladies and gentlemen, the press has no power. What we do have is influence,” Halloran said. “Power means you have the moral and the legal authority to make something happen. I have no power. I do have the influence, which means the capacity to persuade. Even that is limited.”
Another common fallacy when attempting to understand the media stems from the idea that the press only reports “bad news,” Halloran said.
“The good news bad news thing is also far more in the eye of the receiver than it is in the fingers of the writer,” Halloran said.
Many also worry that the media is dominated by liberal ideals.
“The point is that the criteria for judging the political stance of a paper or a TV news program is in the copy, not in the résumé of a writer or a news anchor,” Halloran said.
Halloran also discussed the problems among unauthorized disclosure, or leaking information that should not be realized to the public.
“What the reading and the viewing public does not see is the number of times the press and TV pull their punches instead of sensitive information,” Halloran said.
The final myth Halloran spoke about the effect of the Internet in the world of news,” Halloran said.
“It used to be that if your newspaper had an Internet outlet, you wrote your story for the print version and then they took it and put it in the Internet version,” he said. “Now people who are daily reporters are asked to write their stories for the Internet and then touch it up a little bit and put it in the print edition.”
Halloran closed the lecture by challenging the public to learn to understand the news industry before criticizing it.
“Let me sum up. There is a lot going on with the news game today, and much that could be improved,” he said. “But first and foremost there needs to be a hard look at journalism. If you are going to demand that newspapers improve, you’ve got to understand how they operate and what they’re doing.”