Aspen Princess: In defense of the media establishment | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Princess: In defense of the media establishment

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

So my friend Catherine and I went to see the film "The Post" a few weeks ago, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

It's a good reminder of the importance of a free press, and (one can only hope) a testament to the true agenda of investigative journalism, to dig for facts to substantiate reporting the truth.

That's somehow gotten lost in an era when a reality TV star is running the country, when our so-called leader depends on his Twitter feed to conduct a sloppy and volatile lack of diplomacy. I often wonder why Twitter won't shut his account down. Don't they care about the safety of the entire world, of human kind, civilization and the planet as we know it?

I have a good friend Anne who is a diehard liberal from Southern California. She's an artist, a former pro surfer, a bohemian, and was a vegetarian long before everyone started throwing the phrase "plant-based" around. We recently got into a huge argument about the media.

"The media lies," Anne said, her southern accent flaring the way it does when she's fired up about something. "They're all owned by huge corporations and are fabricating the news to satisfy their advertisers."

It's not that often I get angry with her, but I could feel my cheeks get hot.

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"Umm, yeah, no." I told her. "I've worked for the mainstream media and I can tell you for a fact that's not the case."

I explained how, many years ago, The New York Times fired me from their roster of stringers because they found out I once accepted free lift tickets at resort I was reporting on. Accepting free stuff as a freelance journalist was pretty standard in the world I'd come from, what, writing for snowboarding and surf magazines. I was always getting comped for everything from hotel rooms and airline tickets to meals in fancy restaurants.

"But getting lift tickets in a ski town is like getting a bus pass when you visit a city," I told my editor, the panic rising in my voice. "It's not that big of a deal"

I didn't get it that The New York Times doesn't mess around when it comes to their journalism ethics policy. They didn't care that I was also freelancing for magazines, and enjoying whatever perks stemmed from that. If anything, life as a freelance writer was always about the perks because the pay was so bad that no one in their right mind would consider doing it otherwise. I used to boast to all my fancy, Ivy League educated friends back East that while I was barely earning a livable salary, I had access to things, people and places that even rich people couldn't get. I mean, the one year I got a media credential for Food & Wine, they let me into any event I wanted to go to, and 45 minutes before everyone else! It doesn't get much better than that. And did I ever tell you about the time the mayor of Cordova lent us his private helicopter?

I'm trying to explain all this to Anne, defending the legitimacy of what I'm referring to as "the media establishment," those publications with a proven track record, and defending their agenda to report the news as objectively as possible.

"There is a separation of church and state between editorial and advertising," I told her. "The editorial side is in no way beholden to advertising."

She wasn't buying it. She's convinced that we are living in a corporate economy and not a democracy and that everything, including the media, is controlled by special interests.

I don't disagree with her entirely, but it frightens me that she doesn't trust the press.

The bigger problem, I think, are the media out there that aren't established; the blogs and social media channels that often reference links to articles from sites that aren't reliable.

My brother sent me an article not too long ago that reported we are going to war with North Korea, and the world as we know it is coming to an end any day now. It was from a site I'd never heard of, a blog post that could have been drafted by anyone, anywhere, without any facts, sources or references to support it.

The Huffington Post, for example, publishes thousands of blogs from all kinds of people who aren't journalists. I was once offered a blog on Huffington Post, and here's the thing you should know: They don't pay their writers. The person who solicited me said, "You get the exposure," to which I replied, "Yeah, I get exposure when I write for The New York Times, too, but they also pay me."

That was before I was fired from The New York Times.

I also think the proliferation of media, both conservative and liberal, has only divided us further by creating a bias on both sides to find a way to substantiate whatever it is they believe. I can remember in journalism school when we would read different coverage of the same event, say in Time and Newsweek, to identify how each publication had its own slant. That's nothing new.

What is new is the multitude of media outlets and the speed at which information is disseminated. I do think the media is guilty of hyping up coverage of events that don't deserve as much attention as they get. I think that's one way in which our Tangerine-in-Chief is playing us all. He totally gets that, yet the media falls for his bait every single time.

Aside from not needing an excuse to see a movie with Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, "The Post" is a reminder of why the media is critical to the survival of our democracy. Now that's what I like to call news that's fit to print.

The Princess is on a social media blackout for the month of January. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

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