Journalism today scares me. I’ll tell you why.
Our generation is investing our time and effort reinvigorating our nation’s civic life. Millennials are rising through the ranks of American society at a time when our team-oriented, pragmatic approach is necessary to successfully combat the problems confronting the U.S. Contrary to our Boomer parents, our activism is inside-out in nature, not outside-in. The way we make change is to infiltrate institutions and transform them from within. This form of activism requires a generation that pays attention to current events, one that leans toward political engagement as opposed to apathy. The political world saw our impact in the 2004 election, as Millennials were the only age group to vote for John Kerry, and it felt it in 2008, with Millennials favoring Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2-1 margin, and providing Obama with most of his margin of victory. While we still have a ways to go in convincing our political parties and the government to recruit more Millennials for positions with decision-making power, I don’t think many would argue that our generation is well on its way to Howe and Strauss’s vision of the generational powerhouse prophesied in Millennials Rising.
What’s surprising to me is that we have made such progress in the face of awful journalism. The tribute to Walter Cronkite following his recent death is appropriate and ironic. The media, dubbed “The Fourth Estate,” wax poetic on Cronkite’s integrity and objectivity, while epically failing to meet these same standards today. More ironic is that examples of these failures were released to the public this week when The Charleston Post and Courier secured and published e-mails between South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s staffers and the leading political journalists of mainstream news outlets. One such example is David Gregory, NBC’s moderator of Meet the Press. TPM Muckraker outlined a particularly concerning exchange taking place between Gregory and Sanford’s then-press secretary, Joel Sawyer.
Gregory’s first email to Sawyer was sent at 12:24 p.m. on Wednesday June 24 — that is, after Sanford had admitted to The State that he had actually been in Argentina, but before the famed stream-of-consciousness press conference where he admitted to an affair. Gregory wrote:
Hey Joel …
Left you a message. Wanted you to hear directly from me that I want to have the Gov on Sunday on Meet The Press. I think it’s exactly the right forum to answer the questions about his trip as well as giving him a platform to discuss the economy/stimulus and the future of the party. You know he will get a fair shake from me and coming on MTP puts all of this to rest.
Let’s talk when you can.
Gregory left two different phone numbers.
After the press conference, Sawyer replied:
Thank you very much for taking the time to personally reach out to us. For the time being, we’re just going to let what the governor said today stand on its own. If we do some interviews in the future, I’ll let you know as soon as possible.
Gregory followed up quickly: “You aren’t doing anything at all this week…no other intvus anywhere?” Sawyer replied that they weren’t.
Gregory gave it one last shot:
Look, you guys have a lot of pitches .. I get it and I know this is a tough situation … Let me just say this is the place to have a wider conversation with some context about not just the personal but also the future for him and the party … This situation only exacerbates the issue of how the GOP recovers when another national leader suffers a setback like this. So coming on Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation how you really want to…and then move on. You can see (sic) you have done your interview and then move on. Consider it.
Sawyer did not respond.
This exchange is a perfect example of the difference between Cronkite’s journalism skills – the skills we need the media to have today – versus the lacking skill of modern journalists like Gregory. Yes, it’s a business. But we need it to be a noble business, one that uncovers answers and information with the public’s interest at heart. In Gregory’s example, as moderator of MTP, shouldn’t he be framing the conversation? Gregory’s apparent willingness to allow any guest to dictate the direction of the interview is seriously problematic.
If Millennials want to continue to build and reinvigorate our civic institutions for the Twenty-First Century, I suggest we start with the media. Luckily we already have Scoop44 on board, a youth-run media outlet dedicating to chronicling the Obama administration from a youth perspective. Scoop44’s about page frequently describes itself as energetic, perhaps needling the traditional media’s penchant for lazy reporting. We also have a friend in Luke Russert at NBC, following in his dad’s footsteps and asking questions about youth issues like the impact of the economy and unemployment on our generation. But in order for us to make the largest mark on society, Millennials need more from today’s journalists.
Any thoughts on the state of the media and its relationship with Millennials as we continue to gain more power across the nation?