Editor’s note: This is the last part of “It’s time for a less reductive news media”. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.
It would be unfair to talk about the news media without having at least a discussion about the people on the other side of the screen. cable viewers, while in decreasing numberare not a monolith, and it would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Many viewers of daytime cable news—which are often more amenable to discussion and opinion-debating—probably resemble my grandparents. People our age often don’t have cable, a service that remains the attraction of live sports. Instead, our news comes from social media or individual trusted online verticals, whether established media (obviously the world’s MSNBC and Fox News also publish their content online) or otherwise.
And at this point, I have yet to mention local news, who are invaluable members of their communities; although they suffer from quite a different problem. And above all of that looms the exhausting specter of fake news, a subject I imagine everyone has long made up their minds about.
It would also be unfair to write this article without an explanation of my own newsgathering and media proclivities. To give an example, I tend not to read mainstream media coverage of current affairsbut instead find media reviews that iron out the problem and explain why the topic is covered as it is, and who benefits from this coverage. This is not a general statement about my drinking habits – I may not often have much to say about The Atlantic, but I always look forward to reading one of its columns; Amanda Mull’s Material World – and I’m more than willing to admit that the relationship between my news consumption and my habits doesn’t make me impartial on any subject, but the same can be said for any anyone.
My interest in certain coverage angles also doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Listening to skeptical or more holistic coverage of multibillion-dollar industries like tech and college football — my favorite coverage in those areas comes from the Tech Won’t Save Us and Split Zone Duo podcasts, respectively — is differently informing than whatever either, say, Vox Media is now putting on one or another topic.
My interest in urban planning and public transport stems in large part from the fact that I have spent my entire conscious life in places more or less dependent on the car and have never learned to drive. Social media channels like Not just bikes or Alan Fisher; people with clear interests – call them agendae if you will – helped substantiate my feeling that there must be a better way; and someone who’s found a more conservative path in the subject would of course think differently about it, and that’s fine.
You may also note that many of the articles I’ve linked are from places like the BBC, Forbes, Bloomberg News, and other outlets I’ve spent exposing. This is a fair criticism, but to which I would apply the monolith argument used earlier. I strongly criticized ESPN for its reluctance to discuss cultural issues, but they also Countryside as one of their verticals, discussing the relationship between race and sports, as well as dedicated coverage for women’s sports.
To say that every writer at any given outlet covers an issue in the same way or in fidelity to some sort of party line would be flattening the issue in their own way, and that would be dangerously dishonest. The Washington Post’s coverage of Amazon workers unionize in New York was pretty well covered, better than you would cynically expect from a newspaper owned by the founder of Amazon.
To wrap this missive in as neat an arc as possible, the prevalence of established or legacy media can make it difficult to rise above their presented opinions on any given topic, but part of media literacy is looking through a flattened landscape. to see the remaining gaps, diving through them and finding the ready places to speak about things in three-dimensional terms to gain a fuller and more nuanced understanding.
Part of this is a function of the Internet; where the flow of information is no longer unidirectional and where the possibility of selectivity bias is everywhere. If you’ve gone to Twitter – or whatever platform you choose, Twitter happens to be mine – and searched for every time someone called one of your favorite writers an idiot who should never be listened to and who may have worms in their brains, then it can be easy to think that the sanctity of free speech has been ruined.
But free speech has never been a safeguard against the consequences of others’ own opinions, and probably never had much sanctity to begin with. The internet is not a solution or even a balm to the problem of a hectic media environment, but honestly, I don’t know what it is. Like many American social institutions, we all have to decide for ourselves now, like it or now.
The days of our ancestors, when there were only four channels and you had to walk to the TV to change them, are long gone. And with it, so should be our idea of what constitutes good coverage. “Impartial” media and the idea of reporting only the facts has always been more of a dream than a reality – the history of journalism is often despicable the prevalence of established or legacy media can make it difficult to rise above their presented views on a given subject, and a country with more real hardware problems than ever deserves better.
Harrison Markfield is a second year Community and Regional Planning student.