North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Is the MSM broken?

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Can it be fixed?

Jay Currie links to a discussion about the failings of the MSM at Columbia University. His response?

Here’s a hint – hire some writers. You know, people who don’t give a rat’s ass about Paris Hilton’s underwear malfunctions, but really are willing to call Heather Mallick on just how dumb she is and make fun of the Leah’s pretensions. People who will fisk Antonia Zerbiass and mock Jeffery Simpson.

I couldn’t agree more. I expect TV news to be rotten cheese and perky smiles and oooohhh, lookey there! Neato-O! But it might be nice if print media tried better to exploit their differences with the television, rather than emulate them. Jay says it well:

the media itself exercises a startling degree of group think as to what constitutes acceptable opinion. Ask yourself this question, when did you last read a new idea in a MSM publication. Or even an old idea written in an original voice?

The problem here is that the MSM is deathly afraid of offending, and you can’t have a vigourous exchange of ideas without running the risk that someone somewhere is going to get really peeved with you. It’s tempting to hope that a new generation of journalists might be more adventuresome but I think the problem lies further up the chain and lies in the lap of those doing the hiring. And if you think it’s the editors you haven’t been paying attention.

I didn’t think ads were that bad until I started to turn to blogs for my analysis of events. The blogger doesn’t much care if he offends you. Primarily, he loves his subject. If he’s true to that and good at communicating it, he will have a successful blog. The MSM could not be more different. The big wigs in media don’t care about what they run. Their business model is one that is based on delivering audiences to advertisers. Anything – anything – that they print is fodder put forth to create an audience. All the grey in a newspaper is like the cheese in a mousetrap.

It has to be admitted that there are different levels of print media, aimed at different levels of readership. You might say that tabloid journalism is as simple and rude as it ever was. What’s missing is that upper level, a place where you could turn for something to chew on, something that isn’t written in the insipid jocularity of the sports pages. Parliament does have a large element of competition to it, but it also has a deep policy and policy is (or ought) to be driven by more than polls and competition. There are philosophical and religious issues to be addressed and a public that wants to debate them, that wants to be challenged and educated. But the business aspect of the media works against this. No risk and no service seems to be the motto. The National Post, for example, was at one time a lively and interesting place. Since the Aspers took it over from Conrad Black it has become utterly dull. Love him or hate him, the paper under Black was more dedicated to ideas than profit.

I think Jay’s right. Readers have begun to notice that their needs are no longer being met by the MSM, who take them for granted in their lust to service the needs of their advertisers. The Tsunami story is a good example. It raises a lot of issues, some of them quite deep. Over and over on the internet and in the workplace I hear about how people are moved and bewildered by the story. They’re practically begging to mull over the issues with writers who have turned over this ground before. But to have a religious beat is risky. Might spoil the cheese for some of the mice.

Says Get Religion:

… one point is essential. This is one case where orthodox believers are far more likely to be up front and honest about the Big Questions of faith and doubt than are many of the journalists who want to dash through to the glowing visuals and happy endings, if they can find any.

Journalists need to realize that, yes, this is a religion story. There are life-and-death issues at stake. People are asking questions for which there are no, absolutely no, easy answers. This is not sound-bite territory. People are looking way past deadlines and into eternity. The goal is to listen to their voices and tell their stories, even when what they have to say is mysterious and complicated.

I don’t know what the primary faith of the affected people is. I think Indonesia is mostly Muslim. How are they doing? How are other Muslims around the world responding? What other faiths are in the area and what are they doing and saying? How does it compare to what is happening in the west, where there has been quite a large and positive response? What some twit at the UN has to say about the story is the smallest, slenderest thread of the story. There’s more. Who’s going to get it?


Written by Curt

January 7, 2005 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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