Commentary: Blaming the Media Is Sometimes Too Easy

I wanted to respond to a letter that we published on Monday from “Concerned Citizens of Davis.”  They open their critique of media coverage on Milo Yiannopoulos with the following: “Congratulations. You walked right into the welcoming arms of Breitbart, their stuntman, Milo Yiannopoulos, and the publicity puppy, Martin Shkreli. I hope you feel proud of yourselves.”

The fact is that everyone fell prey to Milo’s antics this weekend.  He announced his arrival, which triggered both student and community groups to protest his appearance.  When protesters shut down his talk on Friday, they were playing right into his adept hands.

Whether he planned it or not, the cancellation of his show allowed him to prove his point that the left-based groups on campus were the tyrannical forces shutting down free speech.  He was a victim of holding unpopular opinions.  And the university cowed to the activist crowd.

That was well-played by Milo and he deserves credit for pulling it off and doing so with style.

I am often a critic of the media – I believe that traditional media is dying, not just because of market forces, but also from a general sense of falling short (granted, losing revenue and budgets to do real investigative news is linked to market forces).  The media basically got the 2016 Election wrong and deserves the blame there.

That said, I think a lot of activists look at media coverage through their own lenses rather than through the eyes of the media.

My job as a reporter is to report what is going on.  In an ideal world, I would be able to cover either personally, through employees, or through public submissions everything of importance in the community.  However, resources dictate that I only have a certain amount of personnel to be on the ground reporting.

Therefore, whether it is a small operation like the Vanguard or a larger operation like the Sacramento Bee or local news, we have to make choices.  That means we have to make a decision based on the interest that the public has in the story, the amount of newsworthiness, and the relative importance.

The Milo event was probably not the most important story that happened this past weekend.  But when I had to choose between covering the Milo protest on Saturday (I chose to spend time with my family on Friday night, not realizing the protesters would shut down the event) and another event at the same time, it was not a close call.

On Saturday, the Vanguard ran two stories, Milo Event Cancelled and the Press Conference on the Sacramento Shooting – which I considered the more important story, by the way.  Milo got 143 comments to zero for the other article.  Readership ran 14 to 1 for the Milo article.

Three more stories on Sunday, two Milo and one the Sacramento police shooting.  Again, 69 comments for those two stories to one for the police shooting.  Readership ran this time 7 to 1 for Milo.

Four stories on Monday – I did a commentary on litigation, Leanna Sweha did an interview with Senator Dodd and then we ran two letters submitted by the public on Milo.  While the litigation article got the most comments, the two Milo articles generated three times the readership of the other two articles.

On Tuesday, we ran our final Milo article and it generated more readership than the other three articles combined.

Bottom line is that the Vanguard provided our readership with a choice, but they chose to both read and engage far more on the Milo articles than the other stories.

The authors of the letter write: “If there is one lesson that the news media should have learned from this past election, it is this: You need to try harder. Your appetite solely for spectacle means that the less exciting but far more necessary community actions to organize and build solidarity fly under your radar and make you the dupes of the alt-right.”

This is all a fair point, but I need to turn it back on them.  The Vanguard is a small publication – we can’t be everywhere.  I don’t think that Milo was the most important thing happening in the last week, but it was the most read and discussed thing by far.  Decisions have to be made and we made it based on our perception of the newsworthiness and interest in the story.

I’m sorry but I cannot blame the news this time – Milo was theater, he played it well, his opposition got played.

The writers of the letter pointed out, “Students put together two alternative events that night to build something positive at the same time that Yiannopoulos was promoting hatred.”

We ran the press release on the Samy event.  We tried to set up an interview with Mr. Samy, but it never materialized.  However, in the end, I think the counter-organizers would have been better off not trying that approach.

The public is much more interested in the outrageous than a civil conversation.

There are important points to be made, however.  I have often thought about holding a lecture or seminar on media coverage for social activists.

Here are several suggestions.

First, news people have many demands on their time.  There are competing interests and stories.  The easier that you make it for the media people, the better.  Contact the media early and often.  Make them interested.

Second, you can’t fight fire with fire.  Trying to have Kevin Samy opposite Milo was never going to work.  But having a Kevin Samy event later in the weekend, or earlier, might have gotten reporters to come out and cover it.

Third, hold an event that will draw interest.  Media likes protests, they might come to a news conference.  Hold them.

Four, when all else fails, the Vanguard is always looking for guest pieces and the Enterprise is certainly looking for them as well.  Submit your own story.

“An ounce of research would have turned up all the efforts that our community put in to counter Breitbart’s message of hate.”

Throwing blame at the media is generally not going to help your cause.  Expecting the media to adhere to your values is not going to work.

I’m sorry, the letter writers are wrong here.  I simply do not have time – and most reporters don’t – to seek out community events.  It is your job to bring them to the media, not the other way around.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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10 thoughts on “Commentary: Blaming the Media Is Sometimes Too Easy”

  1. Keith O

    This spectacle wasn’t the media’s fault.  It wasn’t the College Republican’s fault either.  And no, they don’t owe anyone an explanation for why they asked Milo to speak on campus either.  It’s the people who got up in arms because Milo was coming to town’s fault as they tried and succeeded to shut down free speech through every means possible.  First they had 900 faculty, staff, students, and alumni turn in a letter asking that Milo be shut down, submitted several letters and op-eds to the Vanguard and our local newspaper against him speaking and topped it all off with an ugly protest on the night of the event which got them their wish, shutting down free speech.

    If they had just let the College Republicans invite their speaker, give away tickets and hold the event without all of the fanfare that the agitators created there would hardly be any story.

    This is all just deflection now and an attempt to take everyone’s eye off the ball.  The big and true story is free speech was shut down at UC Davis.

      1. Keith O

        So when one isn’t allowed to speak because they were shut down by other’s actions it’s somehow not shutting down free speech in your opinion?  Okay, got it.

        Would you be saying the same thing if a leftist radical was shut down by conservative protesters on campus?  I know, like that would ever happen….

        1. Keith O

          Okay, point taken, let’s say any speaker with a leftist view.

          But in my opinion if an alt-left type speaker’s free speech was shut down on campus by conservatives I’d bet you a pizza and a pitcher of beer at Woodstock’s that you would be crying that free speech was denied at UCD.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Keith: My basic view has been that Milo had the right to speech, I disagreed with those who tried to shut him down. However, I also acknowledge that they played into his hand. I think he came out ahead in this for the most part.

  2. Eric Gelber

    This was certainly a newsworthy local event and I don’t think coverage was excessive. I agree with Keith O to the extent that the story became about free speech rather than about the offensive and hateful ideas promoted by the College Republicans and expressed by Yiannopolous. I fully support the demonstrations and protests against Yiannopolous. However, because the stated intent was to prevent him from speaking, rather than keeping the focus on the substance of his message, the primary story became his right to speak at all. The First Amendment became an unfortunate distraction and played into the alt-right’s hands.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s a good point. For the most part, other than the pepper spray flack, the story was all about his right to speak because he really didn’t say much. I suppose that plays into Keith’s point that his right to speak was denied, but at the same time, he made his point.

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