As I was driving into work today, I listened to NPR to get my daily dose of whatever horrors mankind can come up with, in sprightly tones and sound bites. Given that I live in America and it’s an election year, the horrors of war and death were largely set aside to make room for the horrors of politics.
This is where the rant kicks off. I am rapidly losing all respect for professional American news media outlets. Yups, the journalist is biting the hand that feeds!
See, throughout the various chats with pundits, commentators, pollsters and the like, no one mentioned any names but those of the candidates for the big parties. Yes, there are others, for those that wondered why I made that distinction. But there have been other candidates this whole time. Yet the only ones getting press have been Republicans and Obama.
Heck there’s an independent Libertarian candidate right now. Ever heard of Gary Johnson? Unless you liked him already, probably not. As far as the world is concerned, the race is between the Republicans and Democrats courtesy of their flag bearers. Why? Because the media says so, dangit.
“That Johnson dude hasn’t got the chances of paper cup in a hurricane, so why bother covering him?”
And so no one learns he exists.
The shift in the way news is reported has been happening for years. Thirty, even twenty years ago, news was delivered dispassionately by men and women whose sole job was to tell the friggin’ facts to people. There’s always been bias, depending on word choices and which stories made it to the air, but the facts were still fairly intelligible.
Nowadays, that’s not so much the case. We have what’s called “advocacy journalism” which basically means “pick a side.” The facts are still the basis of news, but the structure and content of news is now determined by network or publisher views, with a goal of informing people of the facts, while also informing them of how the reporter or anchor feels about the facts.
Don’t believe me? Go, right now, and find a story that both Fox and NBC covered. Compare and contrast, a là college Comp I. I friggin’ dare you. Now, for fun, stop and think of this: Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Nancy Grace, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are viable news sources.
Think on that for a second. Every person on that list hosts a show where the biases are out in the open.
Tuning into their shows means you get something that looks and sounds like news and often actually is news. And you don’t have to worry about being mislead, because they’re absolutely clear on the fact that they’re either strongly biased for their own side, or making fun of the other side.(Except maybe Colbert. Apparently, he falls victim to Poe’s Law fairly regularly.)
But what’s worse is that, while advocacy journalism can be handled by moderating your news sources (using several at a time to get a whole picture), there’s a strong shift back towards sensationalist news in response to the growing prevalence of non-professional “citizen journalism” through “new media.” Basically, the inter webs.
For anyone that hasn’t taken a mass comm class yet, sensationalism is the reporting style that flourished during the Hearst-Pulitzer publishing wars of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. The whole point of sensationalism is to sell the product, be it a paper, web subscription or XM radio station.
It means that instead of reporting what is important, or reporting with absolute factualism, viewers only get the news they’re willing to watch. And get it in a way that overdramatizes it, making it more palatable to an entertainment driven culture.
Why is this bad?
Well, the bottom line here is that as the news shifts to become more and more yellow, the facts become less and less important. After all, do you do your best to be absolutely factual when you’re telling your friends or family a story, or about your day?
Of course not. Because your goal is to rant or entertain. Which is also, more and more, the point of the “news.”
So get out there and keep your ears to the ground. But just make sure you get a lot of different voices telling you the news, cause any one of them could be just telling you a bedtime story to sell advertising, instead of a news story to keep you informed.