Media Convergence

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Journalism Selections #4


Things seem sort of quiet down in Miami, so this week, I've picked a couple of links from Romensko that caught my interest:

Michael Getler, the ombudsman for PBS, published a column on his blog, in which he discussed the way the political media tends to frame issues in terms of "Republican vs. Democrat" rather than focus on the impact of these issues on the lives of individuals, families and communities. As a letter writer said:

While listening to ‘Washington Week in Review,’ I was returned again and again to the politics of a current event (in this case, scandal around Hastert et al) by the comments of John Harwood. I have noted this in numbers of ‘talking heads’ who are more interested in the chess game than the issues to the detriment not only of the integrity of the news but the elucidation of events for the public who depend on them.

This bears out my experience with much of political journalism in this country. For instance, my husband and I watch the three major cable news networks quite a bit, and invariably, the discussion surrounding almost every event (the exceptions are sensational crimes like child murders and sexual assault) invariably return to discussion of how this issue will impact this candidate's chances for re-election, or how senators will vote on that issue.

I have two major problems with this. First, it assumes that there are no valid viewpoints outside of those espoused by the Republican and Democratic Parties. As someone who knows libertarians, anarchists, social democrats, progressives and true (not neo) conservatives, I am fully aware that there are valid, intelligent ideas and opinions out there that receive virtually no serious play on the airwaves. When these points of view do receive attention from the mass media, it's usually in the form of glowering, bullying Bill O'Reilly and his phony "good ole boy done well" demeanour, who is notorious for shutting off the microphones of those who dare disagree with him.

This leads to my second issue - considering that television news is one of the primary sources of political information for the people in this country, setting up a false framework that consists of only two positions imposes an artificial limit on public discourse, and ultimately serves to continue the impression that politics is nothing more than a football game. Consequently, it's impossible to open up to the letters to the editor in any given publication without seeing a slew of articles insulting liberals, conservatives, Republicans or Democrats.

Also, I want to mention this article published by the Boston Globe about scams and Spare Change, a weekly paper that serves the homeless and the extremely poor both through media coverage, and also by offering employment as vendors of the newspapers. I found this sad, not just because Spare Change and the people they help are harmed by this, but also because I tend to think the managing editor of the paper is right, that the scammers are probably homeless as well. It's too bad, because I used to work in Harvard Square, and I made a point to get my weekly copy of Spare Change - sometimes even two or three. They covered stories that neither the Globe nor the Herald would cover (this was, after all, during the Big Dig fiasco), and I knew that the majority of the money was going to the vendor in a way that was reciprocal and let the vendor preserve their dignity.

(St. Pete, with its considerable population of homeless, could really benefit from a similar paper.)



This week, Eric Alterman wrote a column for The Nation, about the alarming frequency with which anonymous internet interactions, through email, blog comments and chat transcripts, have achieved enough respectability, to the point where they can be considered as valid as any other source. I've participated with internet communities for quite a few years now, and I shudder to think of how our world would be if people actually took those who post these illiterate, barely hinged, profanity comments (one can practically feel the spittle flying out of the monitor as one reads) seriously. The anonymity of the internet gives many people permission to speak as abusively as possible to one another - name calling, profanity and even death threats abound. At the same time, trolls represent a minority of users, and so to quote one as proof of anything strikes me as lazy sensationalism.



Jay Rosen must be preoccupied with NewAssignment.Net this week, because his last blog entry was made last Saturday. In it, he talks about the newest program instituted by the Sunlight Foundation: "a new distributed research and reporting project that will enable citizen journalists to find out how many members of the House of Representatives have their spouses on the payroll." Considering the high number of politicians who manage to find a way to make sure their spouses get paid, too, this project seems like it has a lot of potential to uncover some pretty egregious misuses of campaign funds and public monies.


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