I know. I should be ashamed. The truth is: I don’t really know what’s going on in Syria. I mean, I have the general outline but no specifics. I don’t know the history, so I have a hard time contextualizing what I hear on NPR.
So, let’s say I decide this week to get a firm grasp of the situation. Where would I go? Well, I’d probably start with mainstream magazines that have spent decades figuring out how to consolidate huge world issues into comprehensible, bite-sized chunks, right? That’s what most people do when they want to learn something about a particular issue…
And that’s where the problem comes in.
I could write about journalistic standards and the decline of integrity in the media, but luckily a lot of people* are doing that in the wake of Charlotte Alter’s fear-mongering article in TIME. (I’m not going to link to it here. You can find it on their site if you’re interested.)
Instead of addressing her lack of reporting and total disregard for her responsibility to objectivity, I want to focus on the other side of that article: the reader.
Since you are here, reading a dog blog during some of your precious free time, I’d venture to guess you’re more informed about a bevy of dog-related issues. I’d also venture to guess that the majority of TIME’s readers don’t fall into the dog-blog-reading category. What that means is that those readers, when they want to learn about a particular issue, turn to the magazine to info-gather. Most probably stop reading after a piece like Alter’s. Who has time, after all, to do further research? To fill the reporting gaps? Especially when there are other problems that are more pressing? So, they finish the piece, toss the magazine in the recycling bin, and walk away – having formed an opinion about pit bulls with only those erroneous 1,500 words as background.
And I can’t fault them for that. That’s probably a close approximation to how I’d tackle the Syria issue.
Alter’s shoddy reporting, her editor’s laziness in letting that piece get published without a shred of objectivity, the pressure to publish click-bait, foreshortened editorial calendars, and so on… all that comes into play.
But, again, my concern isn’t for the decline of journalistic integrity. My concern is for those readers who skimmed that article and walked away with a misguided, misinformed view of “the pit bull problem.”
And, I know, saying “problem” is a gross over-simplification. Pick your problem: chaining, limited access to veterinary and behavior services, bad breeding, an overcrowded shelter system, and on and on. The number of problems – all inter-related and cyclical – feels insurmountable, like an out-of-control wildfire.
But, when it comes down to it, misinformation and fear-mongering nonsense that comes from people like Alter are the fuel behind that fire.
We can put it out. We just need to reach out to those people who aren’t reading dog blogs.
I’ve been thinking “what can I DO about this” since I read her article last week. I thought about writing to Alter, though I’m not sure it’s worth it. I thought about writing to the TIME Magazine editorial staff (the masthead is available online), and I still might. But I’m sure those people are getting slammed on both sides already, and I kept circling back around to the issue of the reader, the average non-dog-blog-reading but likely-dog-owning magazine subscriber. Those are the people who need the correct information.
So, here are two simple things that we informed folks can do to combat Alter’s bad reporting and to help those readers get the correct information:
1. Write a letter to your local paper. Yes, it seems counterintuitive to go local to combat a national article, but it’s the same subscriber base. In fact, coming from someone they know – you! – your neighbors and colleagues may take it more seriously or spark a discussion with you. You can find the submission requirements for various sections (letters to the editor, op-ed, even features in smaller markets) on the paper’s website. Share your polite, educated, passionate position.
2. Leverage your social media accounts to reach those people who are close to you who may not be as in-tune with animal initiatives. A quick status update in your own voice – and maybe a pic of your pup – could resonate. Even a question, like, “Did anyone read that TIME article about pit bulls? I’m so disappointed in that lack of reporting. What did you think?” You’ll open up the possibility for people who aren’t in-the-know to ask you their questions, and it sets you up to dispel myths.
Did you read the article? Any other ideas or suggestions for how we, as a caring group of dog lovers, can address the misinformation presented there? Have you taken any steps or led any discussions about these issues? I’d love to know what you’re doing!
And, on a final note, when I do finally get the chance to read up on Syria, you can be sure that I will not be purchasing a copy of TIME.
*If you’re interested in delving into the mistakes and false data she presents, here’s a great recap of the problems.