That Thing You Do

Every now and then, I like to bore people with one of my rants about media literacy.

The Times Union recently published a story about the rise in six-figure salaries for New York school employees. Then they went ultralocal and published a blog post listing the 44 Bethlehem school employees earning more than $100-thousand per year.

It’s a small town. One of the top earners lives down the street and I’ve met several of the others.

The question: why do they print things like that?

Sure, it’s public information, and yes, we have a right to know, but the TU’s motive in publishing it is far from being a public service. They do it because everybody wants to read the names, regardless of their opinion about the salaries. Some people will be outraged that school employees they get paid so much and others will think they deserve every cent, but everyone wants to know what other people earn. It’s always interesting.

Look, printing things that people want to read is a newspaper’s job, but don’t mistake it for serving the good of the community. That’s a childish and naive notion — and one that you often hear from newspaper people.

Why can’t they be more like plumbers? You don’t hear plumbers saying that they do their work to contribute to the betterment of public sanitation, allowing us to live as clean and healthy people. No, there are no lofty pronouncements; they proudly do it because it’s a business. To say anything else, as my father the plumber would put it, is bullshit.

Like plumbers, the people at the newspaper get paid for their work. That’s why they do it. Well, except for the bloggers, but that’s a different post.

2 thoughts on “That Thing You Do

  1. This is the same reason newspapers print arrests in the police blotter. People are nosy and like to pass judgement. My mom is a publisher of a small daily paper in the Adks and admits that for small-town readers, most people buy the paper for the police blotter. When a local complained about their arrest in the paper, she would say “even if my son was arrested, it would be published.” Thanks for the jinx mom! Believe it or not, I was in an arrest-them-all and let-the-courts-sort-them-out situation, arrested for reckless endangerment (long story). I should’ve been charged with unsafe backing, but the local police had a beef w/ the paper and wanted to make an example out of me.

    The whole town got to read about my arrest and hear it on the local radio. In a perfect world, readers of police blotter would know I was innocent until proven guilty…yeah, okay! Of course the charge was dismissed, but I had to take the initiative to make sure all the local media announced I was acquitted. I had to convince the news outlets that they publicized/published my arrest, therefore, it’s only right that they post the fact I was found not guilty. However, most people don’t do that and just try to move on. I think this is a sleazy attempt by papers to get readers, just like the TU printing local salaries.

    What’s worse is if someone is accused of rape, the victim’s name is withheld, while the accused rapist name is plastered all over the news. If someone is innocent until proven guilty, I believe the accused should not have their name printed. Either way, it’s a traumatic experience, especially for those who are innocent and it’s a travesty the media doesn’t recognize the effect of printing stuff like this, even if it is public knowledge. Even the show Cops has a disclaimer that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The whole idea is pathetic and I only imagine it getting worse with social media now in the mix.

    1. Yes, it’s true. Think about it: is an arrest — let’s say for DWI — really newsworthy? I’d argue that it isn’t. In fact, the likelihood that it’s reported grows proportionally as the size of the locality/publication decreases. DWI arrests don’t get reported in papers in big cities. Not much news around here, so let’s engage people with arrests for minor offenses.

      And social media a has made all of this a hundred times worse; it’s the new way to put someone in the stocks. Most news outlets don’t bother to moderate comments made on social media, so it’s a free for all. If I may trouble you with another one of my blog posts:

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