Media yes! But…
Full disclosure: I am a media and news junkie. I enjoy watching, listening to, reading or otherwise ingesting what the world is up to. I believe that an informed population can individually and collectively advance in the right direction whereas an uninformed population makes mistake after mistake. And so, when CNN came to be, I was there, tuned in, fascinated by the ability to follow news beyond the prime time newscasts of the then three major US networks. When I lived in Europe, I craved such coverage. Back in the seventies and eighties, all we had were one or two national broadcasts, two or three national newspapers and as many national radio broadcasters. Then Europe and the rest of the world caught up. We got France 24, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others. Of course, then the internet came and changed everything. News anytime, from anywhere in quantities too large to consume in a lifetime.
I am changing. Maybe it’s age, but I think it’s objective and nonpartisan.
Clearly, I am growing disillusioned with today’s media paradigm, both news and pseudo-news. Take the US presidential elections this year – 2012. Most media, and in this ‘most’ I include all those that have a critical mass of followers to cause a significant shift in attitude, are quickly degenerating into the following ills:
- They are becoming increasingly partisan. This means that they are taking an editorial stance defending one candidate or party over the other. De facto, this negates their ability to report any news fairly. They should therefore clearly identify themselves as partisan, biased and potentially untruthful. I am not only talking about the easy targets such as Fox News who when Barack Obama so much as breathes, they see something evil in the works. I am also talking about hometown newspapers who lean left or right to the point of no longer treating their newly found adversaries with objectivity and often respect.
- They are becoming obsessed with sensational news. What’s more interesting, hearing about a man’s marriage infidelity or asking them about their policy on climate change? Clearly, as recent television interviews demonstrate, they prefer juicy to healthy. The media will tell you that this choice is audience driven. They will tell you that the audience turns to sensational channels leaving the serious ones to, at best, university political science professors and three of their students. This is a shame and not good for democracy. We need informed populations. If anything, CNN – for instance – should consider launching a second channel called CNN Light. Keep the hard news on the main station and make CNN Light into the tawdry one. This is akin to major publishers who have a serious broadsheet paper and a trashy tabloid. I’m fine with that. At least you know what you’re getting and you can choose to watch one or the other based on your mood or affinity.
- Repetition is fine, obsessive repetition is numbing. News media, whether broadcast, print or online, remind me of my father’s first description of a wolverine as I was growing up in Canada. He taught me to beware of this ferocious creature and went on to describe how the wolverine killed its prey by biting it in the neck or throat and not letting go until the prey collapsed. The media, once they get a goodie, will not let go. They will go on and on and on. This applies to any point in the political spectrum. In broadcast, Fox, CNN, the networks, they all do it, granted to the tint of their viewership. Come back to the story when there is a new development, not during every single newscast, talk show or feature.
- Opinion is great, but back it up. Pundits own the space. The same faces appear over and over again. Worse, they say the same thing over and over again. Much worse, most often they do not back up anything they claim with data. We need major news outlets to hold their staff or paid pundits accountable to their claims. If you say ‘most’ Americans, then give me the data that supports this claim. Worse still are those who claim to speak on behalf of the ‘American people’. “The American People are clearly saying that they want…” No matter how many times I hear this phrase, I cringe. How do you possibly know what more than 300 million people are saying? Furthermore, how can you assert, with a straight face, that all 300 million of them think the same thing. “The American People are demanding that the rich pay their share.” Sounds good but to my ears it’s as bad as the opposite statement: “The American People do not want us to increase taxes on the rich, it will stop job growth.” These are two opposing statements and both are unsubstantiated.
- Go beyond our back yard. News media, not all but too many, do not cover more than a dozen stories. When they do, they do it so summarily as to make the information useless. Maybe they think that we need not know what’s happening in Chile or Uzbekistan unless it involves war, disaster or crime. But it does. I realize that we cannot spend the full ‘hour’ talking about some obscure government but we are far from this in most media. To their credit, many major newspapers do go beyond borders. They will, albeit in brief form, cover foreign elections, social upheaval or even technological breakthroughs. But it’s too rare to be sufficient.
I love the media. I love hearing about some tawdry politician but I am also interested in climate change and elections in Chile.