So there I was, sipping warm beer at a noon luncheon and getting ready to tell some formally-dressed Rotarians what Wyoming was like. To those folks, it was a long, long way from Cardiff, Wales but they felt intimately familiar with the Cowboy State.
It soon became obvious it was because of cowboy movies and the Yogi Bear cartoons.
This was in 1986 and most of my audience had no idea where Wyoming was. But when I mentioned Yellowstone Park, the place exploded in laughter with members shouting out “Jellystone” and “Yogi.”
Could this be why Yellowstone is one of the most popular international tourist destinations in America?
These 26-year old memories are rekindled right now by the Summer Olympics in London and last week‘s British Open golf tournament at Blackpool.
These Olympic games will cap off quite a year for the Brits. Earlier they celebrated the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. Much of that celebration was held during incredible rainstorms. Hope similar storms do not blot out the games. But I digress . . .
We were in Wales where I was earning a Masters Degree and serving as a guest lecturer at the Centre for Journalism Studies, one of the more unique mid-career masters programs in the British Empire. My classmates were from all over the world – China, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Korea and even a few Americans.
That year involved my first trips to Great Britain and among all the surprises, the one that seemed the biggest was how the Brits got their news.
Back here in the USA, we journalists sincerely (and perhaps naively) practiced a type of “neutral” journalism where we tried to keep opinion on the editorial pages and clearly identified partisanship in any news story that displayed such favoritism.
Great newspapers such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the newcomer-USA Today were all self-proclaimed bastions of neutrality.
In Britain, it was not that way.
Because of the small size of their country and their incredible rail service, everyone in Britain could receive his or her favorite newspaper each morning.
If you were rich, you read a Tory conservative daily. If you were a union member, you read a Labor daily. If you were a greenie, you could read a newspaper tilting totally that way. If you liked photos of scantily clad pretty young women, you could find those, too. A whole class of young celebrities developed in the UK called “Page 3 Girls.” But I digress.
This all seemed so foreign to me.
But it is all too familiar to me now.
The concept of being able to have your own private media was not a prevailing concept in the USA back then. But it is today.
One of the men who made billions with that fractured newspaper style back a quarter century ago in Europe was the man who pioneered your individual cable TV stations here in the USA today. That man is media baron Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News.
Probably the favorite cable news show out here in conservative Wyoming is Fox and it delivers its consistent message 24 hours a day.
If you want liberal news, people across the country tune in to the MSNBC cable channel.
CNN tries hard to maintain neutrality but it has been getting clobbered in the ratings.
Today, often because of time scarcity and information overload plus the Internet, folks just do not have time to be selective when they seek news. Very few people take the time to sample all the different flavors available on cable.
Personally, I like Fox News. It fits my aging conservative tendencies but it does leave me feeling funny about that lack of good old-fashioned neutrality.
Then again, maybe the concept of neutrality disappeared some time ago when major media outfits in the USA decided it was more important to be “fair” than it was to be “neutral.” After all, the argument goes, who can be neutral? We are just human beings. That change occurred 20 years ago and probably made a lot of sense.
So that is what media is supposed to be here in 2012 – fair.
And what is the motto of Fox News: “Fair and Balanced.”
Hmmm, helluva motto.
I think I first witnessed this kind of media back in Great Britain in 1986.