Getting interviewed by journalists and reporters gives me an insider perspective on certain aspects of the media in Richmond.
Lately, I’ve noticed a common issue with the people who are interviewing me; they are new to town. From VCU’s Commonwealth Times paper to ABC 8’s tv reporters, I’ve spoken with reporters who were practically brand new to Richmond, and reporting on issues for which they had no background. I’m pretty sure that some of my interviews have turned into lectures, with me trying to fill in for instance, the past 4 years of struggle around Monroe Park to someone who did not realize the 2010-11 campaign against the renovation plans existed. I’ve given reporters names, websites, and more to look into. But with the high speed of today’s media and short attention spans of many audiences, it is unrealistic to expect anyone to be able to cram much research in before ‘Tonight at 11″.
To be clear, this is not likely the fault of the journalists. In fact, it is more symptomatic of the sad state of journalism and the media in the United States of America today. Journalists today are notoriously underpaid, overworked, and it seems have fairly unstable career paths compared to their predecessors. One of the results of this, is that it seems journalists move around more than they once did.
I tried to ask a wide swath of Richmond’s journalists and reporters about their home town, experience in journalism, and time spent in Richmond. I wanted to confirm my suspicions that many of the journalists who had interviewed me, and produced articles on current political issues in Richmond, lacked adequate knowledge and understanding of the history around those issues.
There are of course, the old heads (sorry for calling you old yall – but really, you are), who have been around Richmond for a while, like Chris Dovi, Michael Paul Williams, Mark Holmberg, Jason Roop and more. I don’t want to age them too much, so no need to flaunt their time spent in Richmond here. Let’s just say they are well versed in the going-ons in Richmond.
But then there is a large crew of people who have only been in Richmond since 2012 or as short as 6 months. These journalists include some names you see all over the media-
Ned Oliver (Style Weekly and in Richmond since September 2012),
Graham Moomaw (Richmond Times Dispatch and in Richmond since January of 2013),
Tom Nash (Style Weekly and in Richmond for 6 months),
Tina Griego (Style Weekly and in Richmond since August 2012),
Parker Slaybaugh (WRIC 8 and in Richmond for 6 months),
Claudia Rupich (WRIC 8 and in Richmond since December of 2013),
Sydney Cameron (WRIC 8 and in Richmond since December of 2013),
Tim Wronka (WRIC 8 and in Richmond since December of 2012),
Melissa Hipolit (WTVR 6 and in Richmond for 6 months),
Chelsea Rarrick (WTVR 6 and in Richmond for almost 1 year),
Ava-joye Burnett (WRIC 8 and in Richmond since January 2012),
Mike Valerio (WWBT 12 and in Richmond since November 2012),
Matthew Leonard (Commonwealth Times and in Richmond since 2013),
I was going to try to include every single reporter in town, but in the middle of my research and calls/emails my dogs had a fight which I stupidly broke up by placing my hand in one of their mouths. So a week and a few puncture wounds later, I’m satisfied with the list I’ve compiled, particularly since it is including journalists who have City Hall or local politics as their beats. The sample I have taken of journalists is enough to convince me that we have many fresh faces in the Richmond media.
All of this is to say, that the media coverage we receive in Richmond right now is simply not as good as it should be. I am not blaming the individuals reporters here. They get the short end of it all around. The root problem is, let’s say it together now, capitalism.
I’m not saying everyone should (or can) go out and buy the paper or local magazines, or even purchase ads in them. There are reasons not to support particular publications or news channels, no doubt. And I reckon we should try not to use so much paper for environmental reasons (though heaven knows I just do not enjoy reading from a screen nearly as much as I do off a page). But if we do not change something, if we do not find ways to support our local media makers, we will end up with lower quality reporting than we need and want.
Financially supporting many publications or channels is also unlikely to help, as a huge problem is the conglomeration of media. The giant media corporations are part of the problem, not the solution to good reporting. And like many large corporations, it seems doubtful that they would share their profits with the folks doing the actual work. Hard as hell to find a decent job with a living wage these days, but the CEOs sure do make a lot of money.
The aspect of corporate media providing bad coverage because of the political views of the editors or owners is, of course, a separate and significant obstacle to decent journalism. I am not ignoring or overlooking that, but this article is simply to address the phenomena of reporters who are unfamiliar with the area on which they are reporting.
Two ways to combat bad news coverage, or just incomplete or noncontextualized news coverage are to support local independent media sources, or, become the media and produce articles and stories yourself!
If nothing else, keep this all in mind when you read the paper or watch the news. Aside from corporate spins, you might not be getting the whole story, because the reporter might not know the whole story. Do your own research, check out the backgrounds of hot new issues, and you might find that they have smoldering goals beneath the surface. If you are being interviewed in Richmond, do not assume that the person interviewing you understands the context of your issue. Be prepared to do some educating, and draw connections for the reporters who might not know sufficient background.
Journalists can only report on the information and stories they know about – we need to all make sure they hear about important issues.