Getting Meta: Media

I have little love for media practices, whether that’s the individual journalists or the larger companies. Although they do, or try to do, important work that goes largely unrecognized and under considered by the public, they largely fail at their mission to educate and report. For the most part, this is because they fail to reflect on the theoretical or bigger picture roles and consequences they have. In this way, they are similar to politicians and policy makers (vis-a-vis political scientists) and medical professionals (vis-a-vis medical researchers). Two recent news stories highlight their inability to understand the world in which they work.

The first news story is the extensive reporting that a significant number of Americans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim. The stories I read focused on the politics of this, often times relating it to the 2008 presidential campaign. What these articles failed to do is critically examine the absurd failure of the media to educate and inform the public, the media’s primary mission. Allowing this sort of clear factual inaccuracy and not forcing a epistemological debate on the issue is not a reflection of the “stupidity” or beliefe structure of people, but the absolute collapse of the critical examination and discussion in the fourth estate.

The second news story is this NY Times blog entry about whether the best war-reporting method is as an embedded journalist or not. The reason this is important is because it illustrates the media’s tendency to both create and fall in love with false dichotomies. Why are these the two principal choices? Why is reporting not considered a comprehensive, multi-method approach? In large part, and something I mention at the start of this post, it is because journalists have left the theoretical or meta considerations of their vocation behind, as have policy makers and medical professionals. Without having theory as your guide and critical/scientific considerations in mind, any group will work in a stupefyingly manner. And it is not that this is the only instance of false dichotomies; we see it everyday on talk shows, in reporting only on two main parties, on granting equal time for statements that are wrong or lies, and in their self characterizations (e.g., old vs. new media, print vs. online media).

These criticisms connect to my larger eye rolling at the media. That is, they successfully portray themselves as victims, whether it’s a victim of their readers (not buying newspapers!), the establishment (they lied to us!), or the economy (ad revenues are down!). The truth is the media has itself to blame, whether we’re talking about media companies taking on too much debt, buying unrelated enterprises, not recognizing the shift to digital and online readership, or not improving their product (why can’t I buy one subscription and read it anywhere, whether that’s in print, on the Web, or on a mobile device, such as an eReader?). And we should not leave out the journalists, who fail to bring critical eyes to their work, go for page views, and fail to realize that dependency on sources leads to bad reporting. All of these factors explain why daily journalism is trying to find itself, but that investigative journalism is hitting its stride, based on profits, subscription numbers, and new outlets.