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  • Reverend James Squire

The Dog That Does Not Bark

More times than not I believe the media can be our worst enemy as individuals and as a nation.

We have drifted far from the original intent of newspapers and media which is to keep the people of our nation informed. We have drifted to news as entertainment which is one of my frustrations because it has caused more harm than good for the goal has become increased circulation and subsequent revenue. We need to know more about issues that really matter to making us better people and citizens. I will often comment to myself or others, “With all that is going on in the world, why do I need to know the trivia that is in the news that causes me to be more of a voyeur and not an informed citizen.

We see this in the constant stories that contain such statements as “you have heard it here first” or “stay tuned for breaking news.” The goal is to get any story before a rival social media platform or newspaper has it. The goal is increased readers or watchers that are like the barking dog that is trying to get our intention. Ratings and the number of followers is what seem to count. This is seen in the extreme in the phenomenon of the influencers whose main job is to get others to buy a particular product.

Newspapers and news in general were meant to inform and not to influence as we see in Fox News and CNN whose new CEO wants the station to move more from the left to the middle.

Recently we had a wonderful weekend with my sons and their families over the course of several days. A friend of mine refers to these occasions as “a dip into the gene pool.” Everyone including me brought our total of five dogs to all the occasions at either our house or my oldest son’s home. Every time one dog would bark, the others would travel to the window where the barker was looking out to really nothing, perhaps a passing dog or literally nothing. All of the dogs had to respond. It was like group think for humans. When they finally realized that there was nothing important outside, they returned to playing with each other or going into an instant nap. But when the food came out, there was no barking, and they ran quickly to what was going to sustain them. That was very important to them compared to the non-threat that is passing by.

SOMETIMES NOTHING IS THE STORY LIKE THE DOG THAT DOES NOT BARK. This could be a metaphor for the news. Don’t tell us what we don’t need to know with all the hype and barking. Tell us about what sustains us and does not need all sorts of gimmicks to get our attention. The original purpose of news was to create informed citizens. Fox News did make this clear when they were being sued by the Dominion Voting Machine Company as well as some others who indicated “we are not a news station, we are an opinion station.” We are not interested in truth. We are interested in entertainment that supports left, right, and center so we make more money.

I think that C Span, NPR, and the BBC aren’t worried about increasing their viewership which means more revenue whereas the other social media and news organizations are interested in how many are reading or watching. Newspapers have joined forces with social media. If you click on an article on social media about a topic that interests you, you start to read and then quickly need to subscribe to the Times or another newspaper in order to see the rest of the article.

Peter Vanderwicken wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, “Why the News Is Not The Truth.” “The news media and the government are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, myth making, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises.”

We have all heard of the “Pulitzer Prize” that is an award for achievements in newspapers, online journalism, literature, and musical composition. But Vanderwicken points out where the “barking dog” originated. He wrote, “The architect of the transformation from pure news to entertainment was not a political leader of a constitutional convention, but Joseph Pulitzer, who in 1833 bought the sleepy New York World and in 20 years made it the country’s largest newspaper. Pulitzer accomplished that by bringing drama to news – by turning news articles into stories with a plot, actors, conflict, and colorful details.”

Perhaps we won’t be able to get the “barking dog” out of entertainment yielding money making as a focus for the news. We will have to focus on the challenge of the dog that doesn’t bark which is unbridled facts.

Newspapers’ purpose from the beginning was to keep people informed about public and civic events, the truth.

If you are a dog owner, you get use to the barking dog as we so often do with many things. Somehow Adolph S. Ochs had the answer to our dilemma when in 1897 he wrote the guiding principle for The New York Times: “All the news that is fit to print.” BUT SOMETIMES NOTHING IS THE STORY LIKE THE DOG THAT DOES NOT BARK.

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