The role that modern media have undertaken–or in the opinion of some, not taken–with regard to ensuring that the people in the United States are kept aware of the things that they should be kept aware of seems to have moved from the dissemination of actual useful knowledge to providing a barrage of what has come to be called “infotainment.”
All sorts of conspiracy theories have been offered to explain this journalistic dereliction of duty, but having spent nine years as a journalist, I think I can safely say that there is no great conspiracy to keep the American public stupid and ignorant. The thing is, a great many journalists already believe the American public is stupid and ignorant, that there’s no point in providing them with anything remotely resembling balanced facts because they don’t care enough about what’s going on to bother reading them.
Anyone who has ever spent any significant amount of time in your average modern newsroom quickly becomes aware that those who are occupying it consider themselves intellectually superior to the vast majority of the people for whom they’re writing. Oh, it’s nothing overt—they don’t stand around the water cooler plotting how to mess with the rubes today—but there is nevertheless a pervasive undercurrent that the reporters and editors just know so much more than the bulk of their readers.
That this supposed breadth of knowledge is largely imaginary doesn’t lessen the effect of their belief in it. Their obsession with the Tea Party, for example, has nothing to do with the political, social and cultural implications of the movement and everything to do with the belief held by those observing them that they’re all a bunch of morons. That’s why there’s been so much attention paid to misspelled signs and so little to the very real impact this political movement has already shown it can effect.
I don’t say this attitude is deliberate. It’s of the sort fostered by any closed community—a case of media ivory-tower syndrome, if you will—engendered by rules established with the intent of avoiding the appearance of bias. Emphasis on the word appearance, because it’s the rare human being who can actually divorce himself or herself from their own ideas and beliefs completely. It’s ironic that all these rules really do is so isolate those compelled to observe them from the grass roots of their communities that the aforementioned sense of superiority is inevitable.
Exacerbating this is that the bottom line when it comes to modern journalism is, sadly, the bottom line. It’s not about keeping the public informed; it’s about making money. Since advertising has become a losing proposition—for the most part, anyway—they have no choice but to focus on selling as many copies as they can, and they decided the way to do that is to avoid writing about anything that might require their customers to do anything more than enjoy themselves.
The really sad thing is, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Those who actually want factual information so they can make informed opinions have long since abandoned the newspapers in favor of the Internet and other sources. So, the only ones who continue to purchase newspapers–or so, it seems, those in charge of today’s newspapers believe–are the ones who are more interested in knowing the latest adventures of whatever pop star has crashed and burned this week.
I think you can see how it vicious circle quickly develops in this kind of situation. The newspapers aren’t providing the public with the information it wants in the fair and balanced way they’re supposed to, so the portion of the public that wants that information stops buying newspapers. When the latest scandal erupts, the people who may not otherwise buy newspapers do so, with the result that those who make the decisions decide the best way to keep selling newspapers is to keep reporting on scandals. And if there aren’t enough of those happening, it’s not that hard to make a mountain out of a mole hill, at least not when your tools are words.
So, if you really want to know where to place the blame, in part we have to blame ourselves, and in part we have to blame the fact that our media–news and otherwise–are largely in the hands of huge corporate entities whose only concern is that their stockholders and their executives make lots of money.
Joseph de Maistre wrote, in 1811, that every nation has the government it deserves. That applies equally to this situation. If we who deplore the current state of what passes for news these days continue to support it by paying for it, even if only to add more fuel to our criticism, we have to shoulder some of the blame for the existence of that which we’re criticizing.
Fortunately, the role the mainstream media has abjured is being assumed by bloggers. Unfortunately, many of these are as lacking in their willingness to work at providing actual balanced information as their mainstream peers. That those mainstream peers have chosen to be one-sided doesn’t mean it’s acceptable journalism, and any news blogger who truly wants to be taken seriously as a journalist knows this and acts accordingly. I, for one, appreciate every one of them who does.