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Try working with the media

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted August 13, 2001

All over the country, newsroom staff usually meet in the early morning and early afternoon to decide what we're going to see on our local evening news that night or read in our local newspaper the next morning.

Imagine a meeting like this: Sitting around a long table, the talk centers around ways to make the religious right look stupid. After a long discussion about how fundamentalist right-wingers are trying to take over the nation with their "bigoted view of morality," the news director says, "There's an anti-abortion rally at a downtown church tonight. If there's any way possible, get a good sound bite from the pro-choice people but ignore the anti-abortionists. If you absolutely have to interview them, make sure we edit the bite to make their position look really stupid!"

Do meetings like the one I've described above happen? Not in my experience, but to hear some conservatives talk, it would be easy to sometimes assume that there is an organized conspiracy by members of the so-called mainstream media to ignore significant events that are important to the religious right, or to slant their news coverage against the conservative religious right.

For example. One recent mailing I received touting the virtues of a so-called conservative news magazine read, "Are you content to let the Big Media Establishment" (sic) tell you the ‘real' story of the new president? The same way they told you about Bill and Hillary? Well, thankfully, you don't have to. Because now there's ... , a different kind of weekly newsmagazine -- one you can believe."

(Uh oh. These folk must have forgotten that it was basically Newsweek's Michael Issikoff who was responsible for breaking the story about President Clinton's philandering with Monica Lewinsky; admittedly with a little bit of help from Matt Drudge).

Sometimes I'm almost embarrassed to be a conservative because some of the rhetoric that we spin about "liberals" is just that -- rhetoric. We complain about biased media coverage but do nothing of any substance to make a change in the situation. A novel I read recently titled "Dominion" succinctly summed up what I'm trying to say.

It featured a conversation between a liberal newspaper columnist and a born-again Christian and read, "Look ... (said the columnist). We've got better things to do at the (newspaper) than plot to overthrow the church or whatever it is you people think we're doing. While you send us letters telling us we're going to hell, your political adversaries send us nice concise press releases. They also return our phone calls, which your side often doesn't. Any wonder if they come off looking better?"

So do liberals come off looking better than conservatives in the media? Studies have shown that as a rule, reporters are more liberal than the average American. But that doesn't really matter if reporters don't let their personal preferences creep into their work. With that in mind some researchers in the mid-1980s attempted to find out whether there was any relationship between how journalists viewed the world and the way they present that world to the public.

Researchers first looked at journalistic sources. They asked journalists where they would turn for information on four different topics. The key question to researchers was whether journalists would turn to sources whose thinking was in line with their own perspectives, or if they would try to balance liberal and conservative sources on each topic.

Researchers found that journalists' sources were weighted heavily toward sources who tend to favor a liberal perspective. Where 75 percent of journalists surveyed mentioned at least one liberal source, less than 25 percent cited a conservative source.

I can almost hear some of you saying, "Told you! They do hate us." No, not so. In about three years of working in a variety of Albuquerque newsrooms, I never saw any attempt to slant coverage against Christians or the so-called religious right. I did see a desire to get the story on the air or in print quickly and truthfully and while I admittedly did hear some negative comments in newsrooms about the religious right, they were few and far between. What I mostly saw was as novelist Randy Alcorn points out in "Deadline," people who become journalists because "they believed society was worth preserving and improving, and they felt their values and ideas and skills could help."

Every bone of my body pulsates with the words "Christian conservative." That is what I am – through and through. But I'm tired of hearing the media conspiracy theory parroted by conservatives. Members of the media aren't out to get us. But reporters are just like you and me; they're human and as such they'll go to the source who is always there for them and responds when they need quotes or answers to their questions.

Whereas liberals have perfected the art of working with the media conservatives just grumble and spin anecdotal stories about the "dominant liberal media." Maybe that's why the research shows that members (at least of the national media) routinely turn to liberal as opposed to conservative sources when they need information. Who wants to call someone and get berated?

But the situation doesn't have to stay like that. If you're a disgruntled conservative I challenge you to stop complaining about the media and instead start working with them. Learn their deadlines; learn their constraints and form a relationship with members of your local media. You'll be amazed at the results! ESR

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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