“You can cover the circus, but you can’t sleep with the animals”.

The Blue Circus by Marc Chagall - 1950

By Gurvinder Singh

The media also called the ‘fourth estate’ possesses enormous power to make or break governments, individuals and organisations.

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Unfortunately over a period of time, the once mighty and highly respected media has acquired a bad reputation, for deception and misleading the public.

The soul of any organisation or institution are the people. Good people usually deliver good outcomes. Abe Rosenthal, was considered one such outstanding media leader

Abe Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who served the cause of reporting unbiased facts for 56 years (1943 – 1999), at the New York Times (NYT). He also headed NYT as the Chief Editor, then Managing Editor and finally Executive Editor of NYT for 30 years.

In spite of his critics, he was reputed to possess high personal and professional integrity. Rosenthal’s view and track record was, ‘The newspaper’s job is to to provide an unbiased report to its readers’.

He laid down several guidelines for his staff. one of the most famous one was, You can cover the circus, but you can’t sleep with the animals (modified by me). Meaning, mix with and be friendly with your sources but to never enter into any type of cozy and compromising relationship with your sources.

He encouraged his staff to come each day to work completely ‘brainwashed’. Meaning he came to work with no biases and no preconceived notions nor any bias towards any belief system, individual, party or organisation, except the pursuit of facts, and reporting them.

With this approach and during his tenure, the New York Times (NYT) was considered one of the most credible newspapers in America, which also set the standard for reporting across the world.

Successors to Rosenthal it appears had a different approach. They had ideas, ideologies and agendas. It seems they told the reporter to find material that would substantiate and support the views and biases of the Executive Editor, the management, the owners of the paper held.

The results are clear to see. Newspapers are going out of business at a rapid pace. In spite of increased subscriptions, the NYT and most major papers and magazines are now not so well respected and considered much less trustworthy.

This is not the story of the New York Times in America, but of nearly all newspapers and mainstream media across the world, who have compromised with the truth. Even magazines, and television are going down the same road. Cinema has now begun its descent too.

When the media sleeps with the animals in the circus, it acquires a reputation which is not only bad, but portrays them as untrustworthy.

Once we lose our soul, only the ugly remains. and we can’t hide it. The once highly respected fourth estate is in danger of becoming extinct as far as news goes. Unless they change.

However to make changes one has to accept the need to change. When one is powerful one becomes arrogant, and that can blind one to the need for change.

Change for the media can be of two kinds.
1. Get back to basics with integrity and win back the trust, which requires character, is time consuming and requires a lot of hard work. This unfortunately does not seem to be happening much.
2. The other is to undertake more and deadly stunts such as indulging in scandal, providing infotainment, (the marriage of news with entertainment) to produce sensation often at the expense of the truth. Delivering a lot of sizzle without and substance or obscuring the facts. This appears to be the path chosen by many in the media.

I don’t know about you but I rarely read the newspapers or watch the news channels on TV anymore. I usually get a more balanced perspective through social media.