HAMILTON: Do Newspapers Have a Moral Responsibility to an Immoral & Under-Informed Constituency?

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By: Ken Hamilton

Someone will come up to me at least twice a month and tell me, “Kenny, something happened to me the other day and you need to write about it and put it in the paper!” I used to take my time and hear the details of their events, only to find that they are not much different than the last persons’ story with it being not so unusual at all. 

What makes it “news to them” is that it has now “happened to them,” and that it is their first time hearing of such a bizarre event. But to cut to the chase with such requests, I now ask them a simple question: “Did you read my last week’s column?”

They frown and the answer is almost always a “no”, with some responses of, “Oh, I never read the paper!” being said in almost proud boastful tones. Their requests and responses begs both them and me to ask, as they did, does the press that print newspapers have some kind of a moral responsibility to separate their reporting from editorial comments?

His was a very good question, and like another reader’s query that goes hand-in-hand with his, was about how to increase voter turnout. Both questioners made me think, but it didn’t take too long to come to a conclusion.

My answer is, “Do people really think that newspapers, or any other commercial media, have a moral responsibility to separate their slant on the news for an immoral and under-informed constituency of largely non-readers and listeners?

I wish that they did; but they really don’t. 

Much like the guy who runs a head shop where he sells bongs and other drug paraphernalia, and even businesses like the corner grocery store, all that they have to do is to get a license or DBA to do business. In the cases of newspapers, as it is with the foul-mouthed teen that stands in the store within earshot of your young child spewing lewd profanities, or the men that drive their automobiles past your house whose trunk is filled with bass speakers that rattle your windows and sets off your car alarms; or even the woman who walks down the streets in clothes that are more befitting to a prostitute, or even young men who walk past your table in a fast food restaurant with their underwear being exposed by pants that hang precariously just above the convexity of their butt cheeks – they all have a freedom of speech that was first questionably guaranteed by the nation’s Constitution.

And that takes me to the second part of this social analysis, the part about increasing the number of people who actually come out to vote. I have always answered this question in terms of “should everyone drive an automobile, even if they don’t know how?”

Most voting today is based upon emotions and not on any real information. In fact, voting is often not done based upon a candidates ability to manage the job for which they are running, but on personal relationships or against their opponents rather than for the candidate. But it would be great if all news outlets printed or spoke, as the fictional character of Sergeant Joe Friday would say in his 13-year interrupted run of his 1949 Dragnet television series, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”  

So then, why do newspapers and electronic media interlace their views into a story?

It is because they are a commercial enterprise and have to distinguish themselves from their competitors by giving their market segment what they want to hear and in the way that they want to hear it.

Some might say that it is sad that they have to do it that way, and that they are being deceptive in so doing.

Maybe?  But without market segmentation then there would be the need to have only one newspaper in an area and one electronic news outlet that would inevitably be run by the government.

But in order to have a free and open society, both the people and the press must be free to speak or post their views on subjects, especially those that pertain to government.

The only way for the common citizen to balance the information from news sources is to get involved in your government by going to the meetings and challenging those who are supposed to be your public servants; and to educate yourselves by reading and understanding your federal and state constitutions, and your local city and county charters; and most of all, by not failing to read, and/or to watch, newspapers, and electronic news outlets, both those that you like and agree with, as well as those that you don’t.

If everyone did so, then with more moral people intelligently voting, we then would have a much better government and society than we now have.


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