The Meltdown of the Modern Media

by William Grosso

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Every now and then, you run into people who believe that newspapers have a crucial role in society. It's sort of a benevolent dictator theory, featuring investigative reporters, crusading editors, and getting the information out to the public. A not-so-hidden aspect of this belief is that newspapers are trustworthy, and have the public good at heart. That journalists are somehow slightly more noble-spirited and public minded than the rest of us. That journalism is a noble profession.

In fact, to some degree, I used to believe that.

The big casualty this political season has been any vestige of that belief as applied to large-scale reporting (I'm still willing to stipulate that local reporting might involve some impulse towards the public good). From Howard Raines to astrology, I have no faith in the New York Times's editorial policies anymore.

Dean's fabled scream, which was really nothing but which got treated as something enormous, lost me my faith in television and the more immediate forms of publishing (keep in mind: I'm not a big Dean fan. It's just that there are reasons to be for Dean, and reasons to be against Dead. And the scream was neither).

That the same pundits who proclaimed Dean inevitable now proclaim Kerry inevitable, and proceed to speculate about Hillary-for-VP with about the same levels of (1) proof and (2) confidence, don't blush and aren't mocked from every op-ed in the land, makes me wonder about the gullibility of our reporters and editors in general.

And that Janet Jackson's breast was a bigger story than almost everything else, including the ongoing tales of Saddam's mendacity well, that's just plain depressing (or substitute any number of other issues here. There's lots of things more important than her breast. And if you want to focus on her breast, how about wondering why she's apologizing for it, but not the guy. How did it become all her fault anyway?).

The big question, for me at least, is where do we go from here. Is it even possible to have a large-scale democracy in a land where the media are hopelessly inept?

If not, how do we fix it? Somehow, I don't think blogs are the answer.

The big question, for me at least, is where do we go from here. Is it even possible to have a large-scale democracy in a land where the media are hopelessly inept?


2004-02-05 02:16:32
no cure...
As long as media are financially dependent on anyone who's not a direct consumer of their (originally intended) product (news), they will continue to be unreliable in many ways.

This shows most clearly in things like biassed reporting (be it on political issues, products, or whatever) but the overblown interest in themselves is also a symptom of this.
Media personalities are by definition exhibitionists and love nothing better than to see themselves back on TV.
I don't know about the US but over here there are now more gameshows and talkshows where TV personalities invite each other as guests than they do the general public...

So the answer might be to get rid completely of advertising and sponsorship of media companies.
While this would increase the price of the service delivered greatly (maybe to a point where many can no longer afford to buy that service) it would increase the quality of the service.
But it would still not mean an end to biassed reporting and overblown interest in themselves.
There is I fear little that can be done about that, and it was likely always there (just less visible).

Blogs and Wikis, when crossreferenced deeply, might provide a new newsmedia where everyone contributes and all opinions can be heard (so not just those of the reporters themselves). But here too only a limited subgroup of the population will have access (not everyone has internet access and of those that do not everyone will know how to find and use the information).

2004-02-06 07:50:45
Not new
The popular mainstream media has been engaging in this sort of irresponsible reporting for at least a century. (Thinking of William Randolph Hearst's inflammatory "yellow journalism" and its role in inciting the Spanish-American war)

A couple of slightly more responsible news publications I've found:

- Christian Science Monitor I'm not a follower of Christian Science but their reporting is usually very thoughtful and balanced.

- National Public Radio Can be somewhat left-leaning at times but NPR has uncommon depth and breadth, and does a great job of cultural criticism. (Especially on programs like Fresh Air)

There's some others but I can't think of them at the moment. Anyone else have any suggestions?

2004-02-06 13:02:06
Is the media really inept?
When I saw this blog, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The purpose of the mass media is not to inform. The purpose of the media is to maintain the illusion of a counterfeit reality. While bemoaning the ineptness of journalism's obsession with Janet's breast and lack of interest in real news you then go on to parrot one of their fundamental misdirections. We are not a democracy, large-scale or otherwise. We never were a democracy; we never will be a democracy. A democracy was an anathema to the founding fathers, a euphemism for mob rule. This nation is supposed to be a constitutional republic. What we really are I leave as an exercise for the reader. Where we go from here is simple, choose to remain asleep or get out of the Matrix.
2004-02-06 13:10:41
Well, at least it provoked strong emotions....

The rest of you response is, more or less, cynicism and meaningless hair-splitting. You have a point; I used the democracy where "republic" would have more precisely described the US.

But the cynical definition of the media and the recommendation to "remain asleep or get out of the Matrix" is pointless garbage.

How about pointing to solutions, or even to actual statements of what you think the problem is?