Is the news media dishonest? That was one of the first questions asked and answered during the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media Overby program “Assault on the Media.”
In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood, the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at Ole Miss will put special emphasis on Mississippi programs during the spring semester.
The presentation “Assault on the Media” was given Friday, Feb. 17, in the Overby Center. Four Mississippi journalists talked about the growing hostility toward the press. Overby Fellow Bill Rose moderated a panel discussion that included Jerry Mitchell, a prize-winning investigative reporter at The Clarion-Ledger; the newspaper’s popular cartoonist Marshall Ramsey; Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting; and Kate Royals, another award-winning education reporter for Mississippi Today.
Agnew told the crowd Trump was trying to win over part of the country by “crying wolf” and with his early morning Tweets. He said every word the president speaks about the press makes him seem like a weaker president. He said Trump creates news, then blames others for it.
However, Agnew also had positive things to say about the president. He said Trump is good for business, and his presence is reigniting journalism. Agnew said young journalists in the room will decide where the journalism industry goes from here.
Ramsey introduced himself and said he often receives threats about his cartoons. He compared the Trump situation with his home. He has three sons, and he said when the little one breaks something, he later breaks something else so his dad won’t pay attention to the first thing he broke. Ramsey said he believes this is what Trump is doing.
Royals said many people mistake social media for credible journalism, and they should ask themselves where the information came from and if they should trust it. She said politicians don’t answer questions or have very vague answers, but journalist have to keep asking questions.
Mitchell said hating the media is nothing new. It’s just being pointed out more because it’s the president who is saying it. He said we shouldn’t respond to it. We must pick our battles, and our job is to report information. The bigger story is out there, and it is not what the president has to say about the media.
The second question was about Mississippi media hate. Ramsey said in 2001, during the Mississippi flag vote, he received many hate calls. During the presidential election, he drew cartoons about Trump and Hillary, but said every time he drew Trump, he received many hate messages. He said it didn’t not bother him, but he wanted to know what is causing so much anger when he draws about Trump.
Ramsey said the media, especially social media, sometimes lies. The public needs to consider the source, and we also have to ask ourselves why would they be lying? Do they have a motive?
Royals talked about a personal journalism experience that required her to file a record’s request. “It didn’t make sense to me why they would want to keep it a secret, because they had nothing to hide,” she said.
She added that, during mid-September, a reporter with her company wanted to do a story about people living in poverty. When he called to get a statement about it, he was told his publication was biased and didn’t cover good things in Mississippi.
Mitchell said a big part of being a journalist is to never fight back with customers. For example, a woman once called him and said awful things to him, but he said, journalists let people have their say. They had a long conversation, and at the end, she said, “Now you have a nice day.”
The most important thing I learned during this experience is that journalists must always be professional and polite, and as a reporter, you should get used to people calling you names and being unhappy with you.
What do you do when you get rejected?
“Try to be polite, remain calm. But you have to be pushy, show up in person, polite harassment.”- Kate Royals
“Call every hour. If needed a quote, I called six or seven times. Make the secretary your best friend.” – Jerry Mitchell
“I run into people, and get cussed out. I once drew the governor, and he drew me back with a stick figure of me dying. I told him that if he complains about my drawing, then I will just make it worse. I also told the mayor of Jackson that if he didn’t want me to draw him, then he should go sell cars. That way I won’t.” – Marshall Ramsey
“Can we be part of the problem? Maybe it’s because we have a small staff and don’t get enough proofreading and checking. However, social media is teaching us how to do our job better. It punishes us, but also helps us do our job better.” – Jerry Mitchell
“What are we missing? Our biggest mistake as the news was with Trump. We covered what he said, not what the people were saying … We were covering the celebrity instead of the population.” – Ronnie Agnew
Lessened learned as a new journalist – always tell the truth, never stop asking questions, be ready to have enemies and never cover the celebrity. Instead, cover the people.
For more information about upcoming programs, visit the Meek School website.