Student reporters at the College of New Jersey’s Signal campus newspaper (where I wrote a story or two, way back when), discover that things aren’t all that rosy in their chosen profession, as they witness up close and personal Big Media distorting a story. (In this case, the disappearance of student John Fiocco.):
We at The Signal have gotten to taste the sweet delicacy known as misquoting. The Times of Trenton, in a story on Monday, implied that a member of our staff believed the College administration had been responsible for removing inserts we had placed in last week’s print edition. Likewise, The Trentonian claimed that one of our staffers asked “if a killer is loose on campus,” at last Friday’s press conference.
Neither of these claims is true. While our own staff replaced the inserts because they were no longer up to date, and the question at the press conference was somewhat more elegantly phrased, rational explanations and legitimate questions don’t sell newspapers.
The talking heads of the 24-hour news cycle have even picked up on the Fiocco case. Greta Van Sustren discussed the case with shamed ex-LAPD investigator Mark Fuhrman last week on her FOX News television program.
The Signal staff was even naive enough to accept an invitation to appear on Nancy Grace’s show on CNN Headline News Monday night. We hoped it would give members of our staff the chance to do something good, something that almost no other news outlet had done thus far – present the facts, and give us, as students, an opportunity to elucidate the effect the rampant media speculation has had on our campus.
But we were duped. Instead, the show took this missing persons case and came up with conspiracy theories. A forensics “expert” said that he was almost sure that Fiocco was pushed headfirst down the trash chute. Other panelists surmised that Fiocco could have been hazed or drugged before getting pushed down the chute.
Our staff, standing in the rain outside Loser Hall, was given five seconds of camera time to answer simple questions about where freshmen live on campus and the size of the trash chute. They were forced to listen to conjecture rather than speaking from their own knowledge of the case.
It was clear that no one on the show had done their homework: during a commercial break, our staff members told the CNN reporter that was standing with them that there had been no official confirmation from police that Fiocco had ever been in the trash chute. He responded like he’d had no idea.
Grace herself was no better – asking loud questions about how a landfill worked and agreeing with every caller’s own personal theories about the case. She even insulted one of her guests who refused to speculate on the case, saying that we, as human beings, have “the biggest brains in the universe,” and that we should use them to draw conjecture.
But conjecture has not helped to find John Fiocco’s whereabouts, sensationalism has not aided investigators in figuring out what happened to him that night a week and a half ago when he was last seen, rumors have not helped his family and friends deal with the grief that is now their gravity.
These things have, however, left many of us at The Signal wondering if we’re pursuing the right profession, because the more we’ve witnessed, the more it seems like this field we have believed so fervently in requires the sacrifice of something far too precious: our humanity, our souls.
Welcome to the MSM, kids.
In the past, the complaints of the student reporters wouldn’t leave campus. But the Blogosphere gives the opportunity for much, much wider dissemination, where the Signal reporters’ experiences can be compared with those of millions of other consumers of Big Media.