We love you. We really, really do.
Oh, but you hate us. A majority of Americans do not believe that news organizations "report the stories they should be covering," according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that's quoted in tonight's Independent Lens offering, The Paper. It airs at 10 on WHYY TV12.
If you really cared, you'd watch. Love requires understanding, and you probably don't know much about why we do the things we do. Aaron Matthews' movie may examine a year in the life of the Daily Collegian, Pennsylvania State University's student newspaper, but it provides insight into the problems facing all news organizations these days.
You might also want to watch just to get a look at some of the admirable young people who don't get enough coverage in modern media that focus on coeds who go missing in the heartland, maniac murderers shooting up malls and campuses, or, perhaps, sexy student con artists who borrow a page from Nip/Tuck and live the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
The students in The Paper may skip classes left and right to pursue their journalistic duties and passions, but they are not journalism nerds.
And they are probably a little more lovable in their youthful struggle to do the right thing than some of us more seasoned journalists, but they care just as much as we do about the two age-old problems of journalism: How to provide readers with what they want and what they need.
In the film, different special-interest groups complain, with considerable authority, that the campus paper covers these concerns poorly. But the people in these groups decline to work at the paper.
Editors, baffled by a sudden circulation decline at what had been the nation's fifth-largest college paper - especially galling since it's given away on campus - struggle to make the Daily Collegian more likable, but, because they spend so much time in the office, they're not really sure how to do it.
Stories should be "more readable and entertaining, instead of having all the facts at the top," someone suggests.
They experiment with a dating page - "Caught in the act and laughing it off"; "Use them and lose them," read some of the headlines.
But it's finally news, sort of, that grabs attention on campus, and, gasp, even on the local TV news. Gay students hold a springtime "kiss-in." There's a front-page picture. Somebody writes a letter to the editor saying the participants are "disgusting and pathetic."
Under the principle of generating discussion, with a dose of "people need to know what's out there," the letters editor prints it, and the whole community is off to the races.
Matthews does a fine job of profiling the student journalists as he selects the stories of a few individuals to illustrate issues at the paper and, by implication, in the media at large.
These kids are fascinating as they struggle to do what they think is the right thing both for their publication and for the public.
We professionals may not be quite so charismatic, but we're struggling, too.
Jonathan Storm |
Shown at 10 p.m. today on WHYY TV12