My oldest and “bestest” friend has started a new blog here! Check out “Mirror Girl” (aka Lrig Rorrim) over at http://www.pandapoop.net/lrigrorrim/. She’s a great writer and is, frankly, putting my “no editing, off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness” blog to shame. But that’s joy of blogs – they can be whatever you want to make of them – random musings, well-researched op-ed pieces, links to your favorite silly cat photos
Actually, her blog got started when we were talking the other night about news. My view is that I can’t possibly keep up with the 10,000 things I’m “supposed” to as an educated person. What are we doing today in Libya? What are the political/social/moral/financial implications of meddling in yet another world crisis? What’s the latest event in the on-going political ping-pong here in Wisconsin? How are the federal budget deliberations coming along? What type of exercise/diet/medical care is best for me? What’s going on in my field of nutritional ecology? What’s going on with the grocery store next door? What shifts are happening in China? India? Europe? These are all things that I, an over-educated American can certainly research and develop opinions on. But there’s a limit to how many things I can be in-depth on at a time.
That’s why we have reporters and bloggers. They do the dirty work of sifting through the issues, understanding the history, so I don’t have to. I think good reporters should take a stand. Not a “I believe X, therefore I will spin everything to show X”-stand. But a “I’ve looked at all the facts, and based on history/politics/economics, we should do X”-stand. And I want there to be many reporters all sifting and winnowing through the issues and coming up with their own (different), reasoned opinions and evaluations.
Right now I feel like most reporting is failing for two reasons:
First, more and more of the media is beginning with the end in mind. They start with the conclusions and then interview people and dig up just enough statistics to support that conclusion. To some extent, we are trained to do that in school by writing reports (and theses and dissertations) that follow that structure. Mostly, though, it isn’t lazy reporters using a grade-school format, it is a marketing strategy to sell stories to people who would rather have confirmation of their own opinions rather than thought-provoking analyses. Brevity sells. People like to feel that they are right. Media responds to these demands.
The second reason is a perversion of the idea of fairness. Fairness should mean listening to all sides of an issue in order to make an informed judgement. But it does not (and should not) mean valuing everyone’s opinion equally. Our current state of affairs has equal value being given to opposing sides just because they are opposing. In an effort to present “both sides of the story”, round-earthers and flat-earthers get equal billing. A good reporter writing about the shape of the earth should listen to the flat-earthers to see what their arguments are, but at the end of the day should dismiss their arguments as weak and report that the earth is round. Fairness comes in making sure that the flat-earth group gets interviewed and judged, but not by accepting their ideas without judgment. Perhaps because of our well-meaning democratic ideals, US news sources are especially prone to this – from the New York Times, to the Wall Street Journal, to the network news stations and weekly magazines. Some of them are even proud of this – FOX news’ motto is “fair and balanced”, which manages to hit both of my media “problem” buttons at once. So we get flat news stories that report the facts but not the context of those facts or their implications.
So, how do we fix this state of affairs? Not only do inquiring minds want better analyses, but the news industry is in a free-fall plummet towards complete failure in large part due to their declining standards. Dumbing down stories may sell more copies of a particular issue of a newspaper, but also weakens the reliance people have on the paper as a news source. When those same people want to really know about an issue they care about, they’ll go elsewhere since they know their paper is just “fluff”.
The answer is to fund media publicly to ensure that we have media that isn’t tied to advertising and economic agendas, one that doesn’t act as a mouthpiece of the government, but is funded by the government. Perhaps some charitable institutions could help support it so that the burden wasn’t exclusively on the government. Oh wait! We already have such a venerable institution. We have NPR and PBS. And, they’re on the chopping block. They’ve been maligned as biased, but they aren’t. They have equal numbers of viewers on the right and left and on the far right and far left. People listen/watch because it’s good, in-depth, insightful reporting.
The earth is round. I want more good reporting. Keep up the good work Mirror Girl!