Is Media to Blame?

This commentary from “Letter to the editor: Local media didn’t whiff on Flint coverage” by John Hiner focuses on the media’s role in coverage of the Flint water crisis.

In this commentary John Hiner discusses how the flint water crisis has been documented and reported on as early as October 2015, but readership remained low compared to stories about Michigan football or the weather. He also argues that all media could have played a more active role in applying pressure to this story and Flint’s writer story eliciting an earlier response.

I believe the intention of this article was to challenge people to think about what type of media they consume while ignoring issues in the media that involve their government affecting the lives of citizens negatively as well as challenge media’s involvement in making important stories more mainstream. I thought the author of this article did a good job at conveying these things with his use of pathos.

What do you feel was the intent of this article?

Should the author have focused more on the fault of the government dealing with flints water crisis? Or is the media truly to blame for the story not being big sooner?

What would have made this commentary better?



5 Responses to “Is Media to Blame?”

  1. I am a little confused by your commentary on the piece. You mentioned the coverage of the story beginning in October 2015, when the author said there were stories since January of 2014. Then, you also said how he claimed that media could have done a better job of covering the story, but I think that is not what he was going for. The goal of the piece seems to me to be explaining that the local coverage of this event was happening for a very long time, yet all of those people who are coming in are saying there was no coverage. The author is claiming that it is the wrongful assumption of the national media to assume that Flint reporters are lazy and too understaffed to cover the story.

    The only mention of the story being covered too little was in relation to every story of this magnitude needing more public facing. However, he does explain that the stories were simply read less, not less available to the public, citing that the football game and weather were more heavily tracked than the crisis until very recently.

    As for the writing of the piece, I do believe the author was biased, but that is because it is a letter to the editor, not necessarily news coverage. Also, he does have stake in the issue it seems. I think he did a wonderful job of explaining how the national media is making it their own story, when the people of Flint were there before it and will be there after it. Overall, I think it was an interesting piece to give the other side of the story.

  2. Some interesting questions raised here by both William and Harry. We are very fortunate that the author of this letter, editor John Hiner, will be joining us in class on Thursday. So please think about what you will ask him. You can explore some of the questions here if you like.

  3. I agree with Harry that it’s biased, but I’m still unsure if that’s a good thing. Obviously, John Hiner is defending the work of his publication. But there was one line at the end that struck me as a little … off. He writes : “But MLive/The Flint Journal has been here from the start, and we’ll be here when they leave. We aren’t borrowing this story, we own it.”

    I think we should press him on what it means for a news organization to “own” a story. Is it a question of public welfare or of ego? Although this piece was in response to a critical Poynter’s column, I get the sense that Hiner and other Flint journalists are upset that not enough credit has been given to them for doing the initial legwork on the story. Which is entirely understandable — I know I would be annoyed if I worked on a story for months and then had someone take credit for it. But it begs the question: if the story you work on goes national, isn’t that a good thing? Even if credit isn’t allotted as fairly as one would hope, isn’t the national spotlight on Flint ultimately going to bring about more change? It’s a tricky area with a lot of potential for debate.

  4. I agree with Harry and Giancarlo– Hiner is defending local newspapers from accusations against Flint journalists, saying that they haven’t done enough to get this story out there. But he might be a little too defensive… He blames the public for not paying enough attention, but I think it was necessary to get national coverage in order to put things in motion. Today, it seems like people don’t actively seek out articles or make an effort to keep up with the news as much. With so many articles circulating on Facebook, it’s easy to pick and choose stories from that platform to read. Hiner says that football and weather stories have gotten more coverage, but so have these scarily regular, tragic shootings. The average citizen is probably more likely to read the most exciting, new headline, and as unfortunate as it is, one city’s water issues is probably not going to make the cut. Maybe it is the public’s fault for not paying closer attention, but maybe Hiner should be more appreciative about the fact that this issue is finally getting national coverage. There are better ways to defend local journalists than claiming ownership.

  5. This is a great article; thanks for sharing it. I think the point was to explain that media has an agenda, and that agenda does not always reflect the most important topics. Sadly, the media, particularly newspapers, relies on readership, and sports always catch peoples’ attention. The author did an excellent job exposing this idea.

    While the government definitely plays a role in the fact that the Flint Water Crisis was not acknowledged to its full potential very quickly or explicitly, I don’t think that is the angle the author is trying to take. He is introducing the idea that the media could have played a much larger role, while also implying that readers contribute to what the media does and does not report on. To my understanding, the government cannot really control what topics the media focuses on.

    Personally, I think more quotes would have really improved this piece. He says that over 500 stories have been written by The Journal since January 2014. It would have been cool if he got quotes from an editor or reporter to support this, but this may not have been possible. He could have also interviewed a doctor of Flint community member. With this being a letter to the editor, the format of this piece seems okay though.

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