Fact or fiction? The media, the big D word and you

Posted by on February 20, 2009 in editorials

One of the competing tensions being played out in this downturn is the media’s reporting versus bloggers/main stream perception of what is happening. I have noticed lately that usually mild-mannered bloggers have begun to criticize explicitly a certain irresponsibility in media report. Witness the Financial Blogger questioning whether reporters are reporting facts or giving us an interesting show on the economy? Canadian Dream questioning the logic of financial headlines. Canadian Capitalist ran an unscientific poll about how is the recession affecting people and, of the 35 non-linked posts, I counted 8 clearly negatively affected comments. Most people were coping and adjusting.

Clearly, the poll was such a small sample size as that you cannot say that the minority of stories is the majority but that is what the media does- it takes a small sample size and attempts to argue that this is the norm.

I have spoken to several reporters in my life  and some of the things you glean are: (i) they are generally nice people doing their jobs; (ii) their expertise is writing and prose and not finance or government policy or municipal politics (sports writers are slightly different but half of them just stand on their soapbox and spout garbage- looking right at you Stephen A. Smith); and (iii) most of them would rather report the true story than the one they write but they know the game.  So you play the game and you help them by feeding them a story.

And in this Internet, twitter, pop-up headline world where “traditional” media is up against instant micro-blogging and bloggers (equivalent to bringing a bicycle to a motorcycle race…), the only real story that has legs is to find something gruesome and emotional and beat it to death- even if it may not reflect the reality around you. After all, reporters are (a) usually not experts (columnist are, in theory, experts; reporters are generally not); and (b) told to find something that bleeds or it won’t lead.

Think about the amount of  investigative journalism it took to undercover Watergate. The 1998 equivalent of a Watergate reporter was sent to report on how blue Gap dresses absorbs presidential fluids and the 2009 equivalent is reporting on what Michelle Obama is wearing.

Here is one of the more interesting pieces on the decline of newspaper journalism I ever read (well, admittedly, I have read one story on this topic…). It is from the creator of the TV the HBO show The Wire. It probably pines too much for a past that never existed but in commenting on the impact of multinationals acquiring newspapers and the challenge of the internet to newspapers, Simon [the author] writes:

“…the newsroom culture will instead emphasis impact…Impact means prizes. Now you pick a target and, to the exclusion of all complexity, you hammer on that target, story after story. Most especially, you write additional accounts highlighting the “impact” that The Sun’s coverage has achieved — covering your own coverage — the better to show that the newspaper has effected change….”

So, if you believe Simon (which I do partially), you have a dying industry trying to save itself by blowing up THE STORY big time which is creating a difference between media hype and reality (don’t get me wrong, its bad but its not the end of the economic world). I think the focus should be looking at our own personal context and deciding accordingly rather than believing what someone in a glass tower who is fed stories for dramatic impact writes (I am actually quite sympathetic to reporters; they are caught between their jobs and their morality at times).

But, as a final thought, here’s the real curious thing  I often wonder- does the media ever think through the implications of its doomsday stories? If you make things worse than they seem (take a small sample size and argue it is the norm), do you not scare people into not consuming? Less consumption means their advertisers have to cut back on advertisements which means the media outlets suffer. Before the web, people may still buy papers to be informed but, with such an easy substitute, is the traditional media not just sowing the seeds of their own demise by screaming at the top of its lungs the end is near?

1 Comment on Fact or fiction? The media, the big D word and you

By Ray on February 20, 2009 at 3:38 pm

That is always been a big issue I have had with the media. Making things a lot worse than it is in reality. Newspaper sales have come down a lot and continue to do so, almost 75% of the people I know who used to get home delivery are now using the web to get their news.

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