‘Da media’ cops a lot of flak. I heard someone complaining on the radio today about the saturation coverage of the Rugby World Cup … every possible angle explored and elaborated upon.

image: gracedependent.com

Those who work in news and its many-fangled tributaries make a big fat juicy target. Generic criticism rains down on them. It’s instructive to see how many-sided the criticism and contempt for the media can be. e.g. consider just one axis:

The ‘Liberal media’ vs the ‘Corporate media’. It’s the sellf-same ‘entity’ … just with critics coming from different perspectives.

Here’s a line from a fine NY Times article I recommend you read, Images of Libya from a Fallen Photographer

He was upset at how some photographers presented the rag-tag rebels as heroic fighters, when in fact they were sometimes “kind of a joke.” Those pictures, he said, might win prizes, but not his respect.
“We have to fight making propaganda,” he said to me one night at dinner. “The media has become such a part of the war machine now that we all have to be conscious of it more than ever before. ”

I’ve learned to be cautious of the easy use of the term ‘In fact …’ but I respect (the late) photo-journalist Tim Hetherington, and yeah, I know what he means about the fourth estate — a worry about it slipping into a cheerleader role instead of the necessary watchdog role demanded of us.

But in my view and experience, as I have expressed before, ‘The media’ is just people and ‘The media’ results from an endless cascade of decisions made by people.

Sure, groupthink can emerge

In situations less extreme than the one Tim Hetherington was in (embedded with US troops) pressure or influence (both subtle and gross) can come to bear … a point-of-view can emerge. But, in my view, there is no monolithic, universal view. People in ‘The media’ disagree all the time, and often they’re competing. Indeed, as the profile reports, Hetherington’s own work provoked conflicted reactions…

While Tim was shooting the stills for “Infidel,” he simultaneously filmed the movie “Restrepo,” arguably the most complex and intimate war documentary ever made. I believe the film reached more Americans than any other journalistic work to emerge from the war, and serves as a touchstone for future documentarians. Adored and loathed in equal measures by anti-war activists and Pentagon brass, the movie helped create a national conversation about the forgotten war.

Adored and loathed in equal measures.

There can be a kind of received wisdom approach to what issues ‘matter’ or are ‘newsworthy’ or what ‘the facts’ (ahem) are. A lot of the time these are trivial decisions. Sometimes it’s super-easy to decide: natural disasters, manmade disasters, big sporting events … and then there’s more edgy stuff.

Consider the apparent reluctance of some in ‘The media’ to cover/question justifications for the recent US imperial adventures and wars of invasion (see what I’m doing there?) Or the apparent cognitive retardation of otherwise smart commentators to discern what the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest and its copycats were actually trying to highlight.

People working in the news media can sometimes be afraid to stand out, or buck the trend. Literally afraid. They can be reluctant to be seen to adopt a ‘position’ — or even ask questions of ‘the powers that be’ which might see them tagged them as biased (or, really, ‘un-neutral’).

But while the pursuit of ‘objectivity’ is illusory as we have discussed before, like a pot of gold at the end of rainbow, there is such a thing as being fair and giving newsmakers (ugh) and those affected by events a fair opportunity to have their voices heard.

Generally, in my view, people working with a journalistic sensibility do their best at this. Except for political propaganda operations in drag, like Fox News or various deliberate position-taking outlets, schemers and spin doctors, in my experience, those working as professionals in news just wanna have fun do their best.

Contrast that with the eye-ball chasing and audience seeking ‘hosts’ of programmes/shows/blogs which are built around feeding an audience of braying partisans — one way or the other, it doesn’t matter. On the internet it’s called link bait, in talkback radio it can be provoking a response … ‘filling the switchboard’ by fair means or foul. The quest for significance stumbles into the naked chase for ‘ratings’.

It’s as if some think a shorthand populism is the highest Trump card — if lots of people are reacting we must be doing ‘something right’.

Which reminds me of the Jim Cramer/Jon Stewart confrontation when Stewart was dismantling Cramer piece by piece and Cramer offered a plaintive, “But there’s a market for it …” and Stewart responded, “Yeah, but there’s a market for cocaine and hookers …”

A demand for bigoted, intellectually dishonest BS doesn’t mean we have to use our little corner of the planet or cyberspace to fulfill it, does it? Isn’t there a better goal?

– P