4 min read

The Media Serves Us What We Order: Don’t Blame Them for Your Heartburn

By guest blogger Cliff W. Gilmore: The reason news is all entertainment modified [f]or shock value; as I recently saw posted in an online discussion, has more to do with the audience than the media. We are served what we order off a menu we write for ourselves...

By guest blogger @CliffWGilmore

If you think good journalists are a thing of the past, I believe you are mistaken.

There are numerous truly great and dedicated journalists out there. I know and have worked with dozens of them personally over the past two-plus decades. But “news” is a business and media outlets publish/broadcast what the mob loves most. The reason “…news is all entertainment modified [f]or shock value…”, as I recently saw posted in an online discussion, has more to do with the audience than the media.

We are served what we order off a menu we write for ourselves — then we gobble up heaping portions and ask for seconds as it runs down our chins.

Perhaps Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

One trap into which many have fallen is the belief that there are always two worthy “sides” and that any given journalist is obligated to explain more than one.

This is a fallacy in at least two ways: First, an objective journalist need not focus on “sides.” We would do far better to demand they report accurately, cite credible sources, limit editorial commentary, avoid hyperbole, challenge us to think, and provide us with sufficient facts from which we might draw our own conclusions. Second, even if one insists there are (either at least or merely) two valid sides to any given story and that we want to hear them both, all one need do is change the channel or open a new browser page to do so. The more adventurous media consumer might even consider entering a few key words into a search bar.

In today’s communication environment, looking to one source for “both sides” of an issue is arguably the very height of intellectual lethargy — but the problem cannot be heaped solely upon journalists or journalism. Much of the responsibility falls to media consumers. The problem, again, is folks just like you and me.

It is not journalists who, as someone recently told me, “…need to fight against it and get back to the old values,” it is their audience. Yet all too often when We the People see good journalism these days, we fail to recognize it, let alone acknowledge it. Instead we click away until we find what we ACTUALLY want rather than what we CLAIM we want. We seek out controversy and sources that validate our pre-formed opinions while lamenting the absence of those dedicated journalists whom we have left unread and increasingly unemployed.

And that, my friends, is why so many people believe “the media” only writes about terrorist attacks in places like France and Belgium while ignoring them in places like Turkey, Cote d’Ivoire, and Pakistan.

If we didn’t hear about the attack in Cote d’Ivoire that left 19 or more people dead and that nation’s tourism-based economy devastated, it’s not because “the media didn’t cover it” — it’s because we aren’t paying attention.

If our Facebook feeds light up with Belgian flags for profile photos and declarations of solidarity that “Today we are all Belgian,” it’s not because the media is telling us the lives of those in Belgium are more important than the lives of those in Turkey or Cote d’Ivoire or Pakistan. It’s because we are telling the world — including the media — that we think the lives of people in Belgium are more important than the lives of those in Turkey or Cote d’Ivoire.

That’s normal. It is natural to pay attention first to that which is proximate, then to that which is familiar. But we can do better. When you write your own menu and the waiter brings you exactly what you order, you should not blame him for your heartburn, obesity, and lethargy — or if the first thing you do after reading this brief critique is search the Interwebs for that admittedly hilarious “Better get a bucket…” clip from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” No. If you don’t like what you are being fed, write yourself a new menu.

About the Author


Cliff W. Gilmore is leadership and communication consultant who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel in 2015 with more than 20 years experience in strategic communication planning, crisis communication, and media relations. He served for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication to the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a public affairs officer instructor and curriculum developer with the U.S. Defense Information School, and led a public affairs team in Afghanistan that won Corps-wide first place awards for excellence in the categories of reputation & brand management, information campaign, creative tactics, and research & evaluation. He is conducting dissertation research on the characteristics of public trust in the U.S. military and anticipates completing a PhD in organization management with a leadership specialization in 2016.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffWGilmore

Connect with Cliff on LinkedIn here.