Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mainstream Media Madness

So, I was having a discussion the other day with a friend about the news. And after thinking about it, I think he was mostly right. The way we frame our news coverage is a huge problem. But I'm not sure there is any silver bullet to fix it.

First, the surface problem. The drug that isn't helping America get better. The so-called "mainstream media" is often not only telling us the news, but driving the stories to feed our hunger for drama, and then to top it all off, telling us what to think about the story they just fed us. While the herd mentality "the media" tend to have has always been horrible, it has only been amplified 10-fold by the 24-hour, cable-news mentality we have taken on as a society. America today cannot understand the news without having it explained to them. And by the media framing the context, they are really framing reality.

And in an attempt to create drama and create ratings we have seen the rise of FOX News and its conservative message be countered by MSNBC and its supposed ultra-liberal bias.

[I could debate the difference in pushing your own (or the White House's) message and reporting the news through an idealogical (and albeit liberal/progressive) lens all day long, but I shall move on.]

Regardless of your of political views, we can agree that, while news outlets have tried to maintain news value, they have often favored marketing over news value. And this has always been a problem. When you have a privately run (or a government run) news agency, there is always someone with a perspective and an agenda that will always affect news coverage.

So how do you get the news out without a bias? You don't. You can't. But what you can do is focus on the medium which can best filter out bias: newspapers. I know, it's boring and dull. We want TV! And I understand, but a lot of the bias problems come from two places: the bias of the "news reader" no matter if it is a commentator, anchor, host or whatever title you give them; and from the money coming into the media pockets.

With newspapers the bias of delivery can be closely reviewed by editors to minimize that bias, and the amount of money coming into newspapers is nothing when compared with TV or even radio. So it is simply because the newspaper is "yesterday's news" and that it's not really popular, it becomes the best source of news. Newspapers best shot at staying important is by being really fucking good at what they do.

But, while I brought it up, I have no solutions to the problem. Except to watch, read, and digest every bit of news you can find, and then figure out what is going on. It's not perfect, far from it actually. It's time consuming and difficult. I think of myself as a fairly intelligent person, but even I find it hard to understand everything I try to while keeping it the context of the big picture. Really, it's fucking hard because that is the job of the news. So, what do I find myself doing? Falling back on a few sources of news.

Which brings me to the underlying problem. The cancer eating away at you while you only notice that you're losing weight. Most American's don't care about what is going on, and if they do, they just believe almost anything they are told. Obama is a Muslim? Okay. Invading Iraq a good idea? Cool. We have to recycle, we really need to! Why not.

America is not playing a role in any major discussion anymore. It's turned it's back on most media, and has thrown in the towel on politics. It doesn't trust the media, with no real reason other than we have been lied to by everyone, and is passive in politics, only voting if they feel like it. Maybe Barack Obama brought hope back to America, but Rod Blagojevich just sold that for some power, and we all got fucked.

So what is an average American to do? Shun the media and turn to John Stewart? Start crawling toward Bill O'Reilly or laughing all the way with Stephen Colbert? Start worshiping Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow? Will Gwen Ifill, Jim Lehrer, Brian Williams, and Katie Couric save us? The answer to all the questions is yes. Take in everything. Understand and deal with the biases, and then find the news and use your own brain to understand it. It's hard. It's annoying. And it's messy, but it is really the only answer.

And while each of us need to work harder to understand the news (and, by proxy, our world), the only way America is going to start to understand the news and start playing a more active role in politics again is if newspapers, cable news, radio talk shows, Washington, Congress and the President do their jobs, and do that job better than it has been done in the last eight years.

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