Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dissecting the Media

Media means different things to different people, maybe even to the media themselves. Of late, some distinctions have become clouded. Strictly entertainment fare is pretty easily recognizable. But when it comes to political news it’s sometimes hard distinguish between real news, as in reporting, verses propaganda or paid commercials for this cause or that

Newspapers at least separate opinion pages from reporting, or at least the purport to do so. But a lot of it in both sections comes from AP, Reuters, or syndicated columnists. Sometimes I long for another division, something like “This News is Really New” or “This is a New Idea” vs. “Rehashes Still in the Current News Cycle”. In the syndication department it would be nice to see a division between “This Guy has done Some Research and has a New Twist on this Idea” vs. “This Guy works for a Think Tank so you know His Take Already” or “This Guy Needs to Publish Something Every Week to get paid”.

To qualify as newsworthy or opinion worthy, it seems it is no longer required that a piece contribute to the dialog on a subject. It can have one of two purposes and still qualify. It can provide information or a proposal which contributes to arriving at a solution to a problem, or it can simply help to reinforce the readers already held opinion on the subject. As the society becomes more polarized, one side is perfectly happy to pay for a piece that reinforces their existing opinion, and doesn’t want to even see anything with which they might disagree. Think tanks make a lot of money just promoting one side of an issue. But, should the media join them in this endeavor, or should the media, the so-called fourth estate, try to present both side of the argument. And, should they try to find a source that is willing to actually present both sides of an argument? Should their responsibility to inform the public just be the presentation of two exaggerating blowhards, one from either side, or should it entail some attempt at a dispassionate analysis of both sides of an issue?

A final consideration is whether the media has a responsibility to highlight issues which do not appear to have a champion. We all know that special interest groups are good at getting free press whenever they can to promote their particular interest. But, what about issues where there is no financial incentive to champion them, such as almost all reform issues. Classic examples are tax reform, immigration reform, and class issues. Although the public support for an issue may be apparent from polls, if politicians or movers and shakers are not anxious to address it, it seems very unlikely that the press will take it on. This seems an abdication of their responsibility to inform the public.

I must give credit to a few major news organizations for now and then taking the initiative, usually after background noise becomes deafening, to investigate issues which have little importance to politicians because there is nothing in it for them in terms of campaign contributions. Good examples of this are the recent articles by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and others on the growing income and wealth gap. It seems all it takes is for one major media outlet to decide to come out with something and within days the rest of the herd is there repeating the same thing over and over. But, it should be pointed out that this income gap has been growing for the last thirty years. If this is how long it takes for the media to get motivated, it may be too late for some issues. When will we see a major push in the media on tax reform, pension reform, and health care reform? Thirty years from now? It may be too late.