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Wednesday, December 07, 2005


media criticism and idealism on a wednesday morning

driving home from work the other day, a story came on npr, and - like the story about peace activists held hostage, from my last post - it hit me hard. i have tried to summarize it multiple times but ultimately think it speaks best for itself - you can read or listen here.

shamefully, stories about the darker side of human nature do not always penetrate - i don't always register them, feel them. perhaps this is because i have defense mechanisms in place - there is only so much horror and sadness i can take. perhaps it's because the storytellers - reporters - so rarely communicate as human-to-human, versus deliverer-of-information to consumer-of-information.

as journalists moan about the decline in public trust, the decline in newspaper readership, the rise of untrustworthy niche information sources -- they would do well to reexamine how they communicate with readers, and how to evolve beyond an us/them paradigm, and acknowledge the reality of "we." for more on this idea, see dan gilmoor's we the media blog (i recommend the intro to his book, in particular). i'm less convinced about the notion that everyone can be a journalist than i am that media organizations need to change their relationships with readers/users -- which, i believe, has more to do with transparency and tone than with every newspaper web site adding a "upload your photos of this tragedy" link.

as an example of what i mean by tone - this editorial from the washington post's outlook section is, to me, a perfect example of us/them. titled, "even a free press can use some oversight," its author, murray seeger, writes:
"More than ever, the industry needs a set of rules for journalists to follow and for the public to understand. But there is no mechanism for drafting a code that would get broad acceptance. Various drafts have been floated, but they have no legs; they gather dust on shelves. Meanwhile, the public is left to the mercy of those who fill the atmosphere with a mixture of fact, opinion, rumor and speculation about the workings of the media and journalists.

To start bringing some order to this cacophonous environment, one or several of the big public interest foundations should sponsor a new citizens' commission to undertake a broad survey of the public media with the goal of suggesting forms of self-regulation. This commission could provide the industry with universal standards and give the public tools to sort out the practitioners of journalism from the purveyors of propaganda and mere noise."
the public, left to the mercy of bad journalism. the public as dumb and helpless - journalists and foundations as intelligent saviors. mr. seeger, are you not part of "the public"? how about the staff of the washington post?

i am not saying that every single u.s. citizen has the same level of media literacy. certainly, building more media literacy education into curriculums makes a lot of sense. but your language suggests that there is only us - the elite, knowledgable establishment - and them - the poor, helpless, uneducated public that is easily duped. and you wonder why more people don't read the newspaper?

the reality is that we're all in this together - we're all human beings, sharing the same earth. we have different paths - some of us are more concerned about trying to make sense of the world, others with taking care of it, others with getting by. the shades of human existence are many, but at the end of the day, we all have something in common, and that is the fact that we are human beings. i believe that the more we can learn to talk to each other in ways that acknowledge what we have in common versus what separates us, the better the world (let alone journalism) will be.

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