I’m going to blame the victim here. Or at least those who see themselves as the victims.
We’ve all heard the complaints.
- The Never Enough Complaint:
The news media doesn’t cover [insert pertinent topic here].
- The Corporate Overlords Complaint:
The mainstream media only reports what they’re told to report.
- The Media Bias Complaint:
Network news is so slanted, it’s better to go to independent outlets like Reddit.
It all makes for a great whinge-fest, but blaming the media is foolish. The problem isn’t them. The problem is us.
During my recent “internet fast,” I spent time reading the newspaper. (We had recently re-subscribed to the hardcopy paper, as an experiment.) I was on vacation, so I had the time to spend reading the paper, but in doing so I realized why the so-called “lamestream” media has such a bad reputation.
We don’t give them enough time.
Think about your own news-gathering habits. How much time do you spend reading about current events? How often do you visit news-reportage websites? Go ahead and toss in the time you (might) spend watching the nightly news; how much time in total?
Now compare that figure with the time you spend reading Facebook feeds and blog posts (like this one) and other, non-news-related pages.
The average time spent on news-related sites is between 20-42 minutes per month.
Yes. Between 20-45 minutes per month. Even if we toss in an average nightly news broadcast, we’re still spending minutes on understanding the events of our world, where we’re spending hours on memes and kittehs.
However do we expect to get broad, in-depth coverage of current events if we don’t spend the time on it?
In just one day, in just the front section of my newspaper, I read articles on human rights in Russia, activity in the Ukraine, the decline of our local orca population, the growing tensions in the Middle East, and several other topics. More to the point, each one was more in-depth than anything available on a news broadcast.
But what about those common complaints?
The Never Enough Complaint: Yes, the media doesn’t cover everything. They cover what’s moving and changing right now. And for broadcast news, constricted to a mere 22 minutes of time, they have to cull and select only the bits that are either most important or highly trending to appease who? Yes, to appease us.
We are the ones who insist that 2 of those 22 minutes are spent on something uplifting at the end of a broadcast. We are the ones who insist that they report more items than more in-depth analysis.
The Corporate Overlords Complaint: Yes, media outlets are being incorporated under fewer and fewer banners. Independent news outlets are now almost entirely restricted to local/regional reportage, while global organizations control everything from cable news to network broadcasts to your hometown paper (if you’re still lucky enough to have one). But this complaint has way too much of the conspiracy-theorist stink to it.
Think about it. Even though we all love to hate Rupert Murdoch, do we really think he (or some shadowy cabal) is making editorial decisions at The Flushing Times or The Brooklyn Paper? Similarly, I don’t believe that Gracia Martore (CEO of Gannett) has any influence over what my local KING5 TV puts on its news hours. It’s just too bizarre a theory of back-room intrigue to pass the sniff test.
The Media Bias Complaint: Yes, almost all media has an editorial bias, but it’s a spectrum, not a yes/no proposition. On one side you have outlets with obvious bias (declared or undeclared), and on the other side you have outlets that do their best to report, not analyze. For my money, Brian Williams is one of the best broadcast news anchors alive today, following in the honored tradition of true journalism, but for all that, I still enjoy occasionally watching the incredibly biased Rachel Maddow, because her analysis is usually more thoughtful and straightforward.
But it is a huge mistake to assume that because someone isn’t affiliated with a Corporate Overlord, they’re by default unbiased. It’s also a mistake to assume that independent news sources are checking their facts any better than the big media outlets.
All media make mistakes. My own Seattle Times, this week, couldn’t figure out that the capital of Israel was Jerusalem (they reported it as being Tel Aviv). But the percentage of flat out wrongness that I see in the tidbits posted by friends from so-called “indie” news sources is staggering. When CNN introduced the “iReport” features on its website, essentially turning everyone into a stringer for CNN, it was a circus, and CNN has been bitten by this when it has taken these uncorroborated, unresearched “reports” at face value.
This isn’t journalism. This isn’t reportage. It’s junk, and it increases the noise-to-signal ratio so much as to make some of these “indie” outlets nearly unusable.
Upshot: If we want to get accurate and broad-based coverage of current events, we have to spend the time on it. Or, instead of spending time on it, let’s set aside some time, or even better, let’s devote some time to being informed about our world.
Read an article, not a meme.
Buy a magazine, don’t just watch one.
Make an effort, instead of looking for shortcuts.
While there is a ton of garbage out there, and while a lot of easy-access reportage is superficial, there is good journalism being done, on everything from regional conflicts to climate change, but to be informed about a topic, to understand these situations, it takes more than a few minutes every month.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper to read.