Media Missing The Point

Newspapers and "the media" makes mistakes all the time. Particularly when it comes to covering diabetes.

The most recent example can be found in one of my own local weekly newspapers, The Southside Times, and a columnist named Wendell Fowler. The Diabetes Community has responded in force to the original column July 15, the response column July 22, and publisher's letter. Everyone has pointed out how Fowler and the newspaper basically sacrificed accuracy to fuel a particular message. In doing so, the writer and publication dragged a local organization's name and reputation down and then failed to specifically apologize for that. Rather, both defended the premise of what had been originally been written and went on to blame the readers for "misunderstanding" the point - and went on to say it was all opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs.

No. I'm sorry. That's not what journalism is about. If you're a newspaper or media outlet it's your duty to make sure that accuracy, fairness, and balance are represented by everything - objective news content, editorials, or submitted opinion-writing. Because PEOPLE listen to that message, and aren't supposed to just assume to know what you mean.

In this case, the newspaper did try to achieve "balance" on its second-week response by running an entire column by a local man, who's not only a longtime Type 1 but is also a medical researcher in diabetes and is on the DYFI board of directors with me. There was balance here. But the fairness element required in journalism totally didn't exist here.

I've written my responses online and in personal communications to Wendell Fowler and the publisher, as well as others at the newspaper, but have yet to receive a response. Which is a travesty in itself, since Journalism 101 teaches entry-level reporters that the first thing you do is call someone back.

All of this has truly depressed me, not only as someone who lives with diabetes but also as a newspaper guy. This isn't the first myth-perpetuating media mistake that we've had to endure. It sadly won't be the last. But it's important for the community to respond to these issues, from local newspaper coverage like this, Chicago Tribune writing about some pseudo D-Civil War, to Oprah's ghastly on-air segment that totally got it wrong and then Ricki Lake's on air blunder (to which she specifically apologized for).

These things happen all too often, but we do our best to speak up and demand accountability.

I've heard some say recently, that it's pointless to try and raise a fuss about these media mishaps. In part because they'll keep happening regardless. Because we're just "feeding their egos" and bumping up page views, not changing any views on these "lost causes" who are going to think the same thing no matter what the response may be.

That bothers me. Mostly, because I'm a media guy. My view: We have voices, and it's important to use them. Otherwise, why even bother having those voices? I think it's important to speak up on these things.

As a reporter, I hate it when errors occur - from typos to misquotes to misinterpretations. Last thing I want to hear is that I got something wrong... but it happens. We're human and are bound to screw up. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that just because someone calls me up and says they believe something IS wrong, doesn't necessarily mean it IS wrong. That claim must be checked, as should everything in a story or column -> (Think: "Your mother says she loves you, well prove it."). But if a correction or clarification is needed, or even a written or in-person apology is needed, that's not something we should turn away from. After all, it's a matter of credibility.

Addition: I'm a member of the media. Newspaper reporter style. Someone who went to J-School and strongly believes in watchdog journalism that gets people what they need to know in order to have the ability to decide for themselves. As someone who's worked in the past for a weekly newspaper and a 6-day daily newspaper and am now several years into a twice-a-month speciality paper, I know the hurdles regular reporters face - always on deadline for Web and print, more phone calls, less time... Reporters just don't have the time to truly understand what they are writing about. That's not an excuse for crappy journalism, but it's an incredibly important reason we must understand for why our quality of journalism has failed on every possible topic - including diabetes. The public is fickle and doesn't have time, so they want it quick and now. And that (coupled with costs and revenue woes in the profession) creates this pressure system on our Fourth Estate. So, we need to help them. We need to find those local people who illustrate the numbers and the trends about diabetes. We need to give them notice, and follow-up even when the editors aren't convinced. We need to do our part as people who actually know WTFructose we're talking about.

Some area already having this discussion. Diabetes Advocates has also been talking about Diabetes Media Awareness, pondering how we could create a Patient-Created Fact Sheet to send to media outlets when the need surfaces. Or being pro-active about it, before any bad coverage comes out. There's also been talk about creating a Speaker's Bureau where some advocates can go out and specifically address this media awareness issue - that's something my local American Diabetes Association chapter for Indiana is doing and I'm excited to see what comes from that effort.

So, what do you think? What can we do individually or as a community to address these issues, and where's the line between advocacy and media awareness and just stomping our feet in a disgruntled way that doesn't really change anything? What do you do as far as media awareness on diabetes, and what works and doesn't work? How do you see the JDRF, ADA, local D-Camps, businesses/pharma fitting into all this?


Judi said…
The Speaker's Bureau sounds like a good idea. In-person is many times better than receiving a "fact sheet." If people are afraid or not willing to speak out on issues, I believe things won't get better or get corrected if they need to be. You should never be afraid to speak your mind.
Meagan said…
There are so many incidents where the public gets misinformation about D. It DOES hurt those living with D, and we get so tired of explaining the facts to people.

What a fun cycle this is. Glad we have the strength of the DOC, we are a powerful voice for sure. I also, am all for more public service announcements!!! :D
Trev said…
That man was an Idiot. Who wasn't man enough to apologize. I am irritated just reading it! But reading your comments to the paper gives me hope. Great, yet unfortunate post my friend.
Lora said…
I don't think I've ever read the D-Civil War one... not sure if I really want to?!?!
Sysy said…
I love this post and I totally agree. I am almost more upset at the editor and the paper than the lost man who wrote the article in the first place. What's an editor for if not to catch bad articles and block them before they do damage? Anyway, I love the patient created fact sheet idea. Count me in. Maybe a bunch of us bloggers could do a youtube psa video together for september...
chris bishop said…
Great Post Michael. You are right, no one is perfect and they are not expected to be but taking ownership of what they say and do and to try and rectify issues is the key. The speaker's Bureau is a great idea and I hope that something along those lines comes of it.
Frank said…
I was wondering if you had read or even possibly covered any news regarding the drug talked about in this article, Victoza(liraglutide) being proposed for use for type 1’s?
Since this appears to have been a unfunded study I was wondering if there was going to be any follow up.

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