Posts Tagged ‘media’

Toward A Free and Accurate Media

December 4, 2011

One of the problems with Freedom of the Press in the U.S. is that, famously, it belongs only to those who own a press. Even in the age of the Internet, Youtube, twitter, and blogging, it’s far easier to put up a chatty site full of opinion, innuendo, ideology, and psuedo-facts than it is to send investigative reporters to find out what newsmakers don’t want you to know, to verify facts, and to write clear and cogent explanations of important situations that work to keep readers informed.

This is the nature of news reporting in a capitalist culture where every organization has to earn its own living, or weaken and ultimately die.

For this reason and others, many have suggested that newspapers and other news gathering organizations should not be part of the capitalist structure at all. Instead, they should be supported by endowments that allow them to spend money without regard to whether or not they generate enough income to pay all their expenses.

But this change alone, while it might free newsgathering organizations from the need to attract mass audiences in order to pay their bills, would not ensure that they focus their energies on reporting what’s really important, or that they report on major stories in a factual, sober, and sensible manner.

What’s also needed, aside from some kind of endowment or stipend system that provides a steady stream of money to meet the admittedly heavy expenses of in-depth reporting, is a system that incentivizes and rewards newsgathering organizations for reporting on the stories that are important for citizens of a democracy to understand and follow.

That function could possibly be performed by a separate Board of Reporting Quality. The BRQ would meet at regular intervals, perhaps monthly or quarterly, and evaluate a newsgathering organization’s work. Is it focusing on the important stories? Is it unearthing the bedrock truth and detailed machinations contained in each of those stories? Is it reporting those stories clearly, concisely, accurately, and understandably? Is it following and reporting on each story not only through its most titillating moments but from its earliest beginnings to its final conclusions and implications?

The BRQ could then use these evaluations to recommend funding levels to the separate Board that controls the newsgathering organization’s funding. The better job it does of reporting, the more money it gets to spend. When the quality of reporting goes down, so does the extra money that pays for perks, extras, frills, and bonuses.

Under a system like this, properly run, salaries for investigative reporting could float to their fair-market level, high enough to attract more of the best and brightest, including some who are presently enticed to enter other professions because the money there is so much better.

The net result, in an ideal world, would be that newsgathering organizations would be funded well enough to cover the really important stories of the day and bring them to the attention of interested citizens. The pressure news publishers now feel to tease, titillate, and go tawdry would be eliminated, or at least offset by incentives aimed more responsibly.

With such institutions in place, interested citizens could feel more assured that we’re being told about issues, problems, and opportunities that are really important to our daily lives and to our future.


Media Keep Pouring Old Wine — Even From New Bottles

October 16, 2010

It was only a few days ago that a huge segment of the world’s population united in a positive and literally uplifting experience: the rescue of 33 South American miners from half a mile under Chile’s Atacama Desert, where they had been trapped in a 125 year old gold and copper mine not only by a huge cave-in, but by the mine owner’s failure to install required escape ladders, ceiling supports, and other safety measures.

Undiscovered for the first 17 days of their record-setting 69 day underground ordeal, the 33 men not only behaved professionally and competently — clearing away rubble that tumbled into their sealed-off cave from the drilling efforts of their rescuers, improvising plumbing to improve their sanitary conditions, and assiduously maintaining their health, their discipline, and their hope under what were obviously very daunting conditions — they maintained their solidarity as a group.

In fact, they agreed not only to withhold their stories from the media until they came back aboveground, these 33 working-class heroes agreed to share the large amounts of revenue promised them by promoters eager to book them on talk shows, publish their memoirs, obtain their product endorsements, and even release their remarkable story of survival in the form of TV shows and feature films.

Yes, that’s right: share all revenues among the group. Agreeing to this arrangement were the talkative ones, the charismatic ones, the responsible ones, and even the ones deemed most “media-genic” by conventionaly Hollywood-type suits eager to generate the largest possible audiences for irresistible presentations of this remarkable story of survival against all odds.

But for the suits, and their on-air representatives, that agreement was a major snag. The idea of media darlings refusing to bask in the spotlight, of potential “stars” insisting on sharing their popularity and their resulting incomes unselfishly with their less-attractive comrades, was too much for the media classes to bear.

First, the news media simply didn’t make a big deal of that angle, preferring to spend more time speculating on what the miner’s had eaten while isolated from the world above, or how they had exercised while trapped underground.

And second, pundits and reporters alike immediately sought to undermine the miners’ solidarity. They did this first by speculating about the emergences of cracks in that solidarity and — later — by trying to foment infighting, jealousy, and rivalries within the group.

The story of how the media brought — and continue to bring — us this story provides perfect opportunities for us to see that the media really do work hard to shower us with the same old stories (old wine in new bottles) which reinforce the same debilitating “consumerist” cultural trends and values they relentlessly spew forth as often as possible, regardless of any underlying truth. It’s also a rare chance to see that the media can’t stand to deliver anything different, and will even subvert an event or a pattern that doesn’t conform to one of the time-tested story lines they’ve become so successful at promoting.

So here’s a wonderful story of people organizing themselves to survive against adversity, and succeeding, even when that adversity is not just half a mile of sold rock, but a solid phalanx of cultural warriors who would like nothing more than to break the miners’ ranks of solidarity and prove them to be just as money-grubbing, selfish, and eager for short-term stardom as all the other people at whom the media habitually aim their spotlights.