For the second time in a little over a year, a Ferris State professor has made national news! That is impressive for a college that no one really knows about!
Of course, once again the narrative has been overwhelmingly negative towards the professor involved. While the first professor was definitely warranted, this story is different. If you read our cover story this week, you can see why.
My biggest issue is the portrayal of this situation by the media. The media, working on a time crunch, forced out half-baked stories completely missed what went on with this video. Nearly every story that I saw came out on the situation last week consisted of exactly two sources.
A canned quote from the university, and the video itself. No interviews or actual information.
In every journalism class we have taken, we are taught to do everything we can to grab three sources. Three sources give readers a multitude of different perspectives that add clarity to the story. So, it amazes me when journalists are happy to run with as few sources as possible.
Alongside this, we are given extensive training in doing interviews and asking questions.
Because they ran with so few sources, they made a false narrative about this professor. The public ate up this narrative and made Ferris suspend him for a skit.
Any good journalist should know that there is usually more to the story than meets the eye. So why is it that everyone ran with two sources? One of which is a video that has no context around it?
Yes, we got the exclusive interview with Mehler, which we are grateful for. But, why didn’t a single local journalist look at the comment section of several articles and realize, huh, there are people defending this crazy video? Why did they not reach out to a faculty member? Why didn’t they reach out to Charles Bacon, the man who leads the Ferris Faculty Administration?
The first thought is obviously timeliness, which admittedly has some merit. Even our first online story that we posted is like this.
I look at what WOODTV 8, WZZM 13, and FOX 17 all put out locally. These stories consisted of the TV coverage that they did showing a cut-up of the video, a voice-over giving highlights, and the quote from President Eisler. At no point do they dig any deeper. The only point of their coverage is to get views of their own show and give the public a quick rundown of what happened. Which they were successful at.
I don’t even blame them. In television news, life moves at you fast, so you take the easiest road to cover this stuff and move on. You only have at most 5 minutes to tell a story. You almost have to leave out details and can usually spend one day on any subject. That is just part of this business.
What angers me more is that large print and online media sources had time to create a better story and chose not to. They wanted to cash in on the easy views and the easy clicks. The reason modern journalism has become a sort of mockery.
Just look up some of the stories posted by NY Post, MLive, Washington Post and Fox News. Not one of these national media organizations did nothing more than the bare minimum in covering this story. Instead, they broke down the easiest source they could and milked it for views. All they needed was this video and the university quote and they could just shovel it to the public.
At least the New York Times and InsideHigherEd.com got quotes from Charles Bacon. They didn’t just take what was given to them. Congrats to them for doing their jobs well enough to get an outside source and interview them.
The first issue that needs to be resolved is the issue of timeliness, everyone did so well at getting their stories out that they were unable to get everything that actually went on in this situation. The idea of being first over being accurate when a story goes viral is dangerous but accurate in this industry. Thus, I offer this, if you aren’t one of the first organizations to break the story, maybe pull back and use the extra time to add something useful to the story. Not just regurgitate the same thing for views.
I knew we were beaten, thus after writing one quick piece to show everyone we were on the story, we actually did our jobs and delivered the truth.
The other issue is the effort put in by influential news organizations. When the journalist does not do any interviews, the story is usually a joke. Thus, nearly every story I saw last week was a joke to this industry. It is no wonder why a large amount of the American public distrust’s this profession, national media organizations are too lazy to do more than the bare minimum.