Saturday, September 13, 2014

Writers need media. In fact, all of us do for one reason or another. Do we have the media we need—or the media we deserve? And why do we need the media at all?

"The leading student of business propaganda, Australian social scientist Alex Carey, argues persuasively that “the 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."

Noam Chomsky, World Orders: Old and New


The current state of the news media is partially to blame for the publics general lack of information vital for responsible citizenship in a democracy. The news media has become an aspect of show business, offering merely infotainment. It has evolved into an entity that tends to function as a public relations agency for wealthy and powerful multinational corporations, members of Congress, the current Presidential Administration including the administrations that preceded it. The news media is being utilized as a political tool of suppression and propaganda by those in power, and propaganda is psychological in nature. Full of half-truths and utter misinformation, its an arrogant and very commercial strategy that is implemented because it appeals to emotions, fear being the main one relentless talk of national security, personal and community safety, can trigger childhood insecurities and indoctrinated views of authority.

Teresa Stover

Quite frankly, having an uninformed populace works extremely well, particularly when you have a media that doesn't understand its responsibility and feels more like it's an arm of a political party. They can really take advantage of an uninformed populace.

Benjamin Carson

All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.

Marshall McLuhan

The state of the media in the U.S. concerns me a great deal—both for selfish reasons (I’m a creative writer whose ideas largely stem from information) and because of a more general concern about the health—or lack of it—of American democracy. In fact, I do not believe that the U.S. is a democracy any more. It has the trappings—like elections (which are covered as if they are horse races)—but functionally it is a plutocracy. It is run by the ultra-rich for their own benefit. The views of the bulk of the U.S. population have scant influence. This view is not just my opinion. It is supported by much formal research.

I fail to see how democracy can thrive without healthy media—and the current state of U.S. media is very far from healthy.

  • The media, by and large, are owned by the ultra rich—and their policies are based upon their interests. That means the news is heavily tailored to reflect a particular point of view—rather than to be balanced and comprehensive. The effect is to serve the same objectives as propaganda—to distort reality in the interests of some particular individual, group, or organization.
  • Whole areas are covered inadequately, or virtually not at all. The neglect of news about labor is one example. The minimal coverage of foreign news is another. The greatest failure lies in the consistent unwillingness of the media to compare life in the U.S. to that of other countries so that we may learn and improve. In a globalized world, this neglect is unforgivable.
  • News management has now become extremely sophisticated. In essence, the powers that be now know how to manage the news.
  • The U.S. public hold journalists in low regard but still don’t seem to be overly concerned about the state of the media—perhaps because they don’t fully understand it.  Why would they given that the mainstream is virtually their only source of information. Ironically, there is some good media out their—but it tends to be read by a minority.
  • Blogs are widely touted as compensating for the inadequacies of U.S. media. I debate this. Most of us lack the resources to perform the investigative role that the best journalists have traditionally carried out. However, there is an additional problem. Very few blogs reach the kind of mass audience that is needed to keep a public informed and to influence events.
  • One of the most disturbing trends has involved stripping out resources from the media—nominally to optimize profits, but such actions have also had the effect of making the media unable to do their jobs properly even if they wanted to—and were allowed to. The actions involved include: reducing staff—journalists, editors, researchers, fact checkers—across the board; reducing or eliminating budgets for such things as investigative journalism; and closing down foreign bureaus.

Here is an extract from which is actually run by Brian Feinblum. himself a publicist. It makes for depressing reading.

According to Pew Research Center, over 202,000 PR practitioners are circulating.  But there are only 43,600 journalists.  That means publicists outnumber journalists by almost a 5 to 1 ratio.  And they out-earn them.  For every buck made by a promoter, journalists pocket $.65.  Overworked, understaffed, and underpaid – with decreased job security – today’s journalist struggles to make a living, do a decent job, and keep up with the competition while being barraged by a nation of professional influencers.

Even though I’m a promoter and marketer, I’m also a citizen of the US and I don’t want to see the news media shrink in its size, influence, or ability to do its job.  But I recognize that circumstances could now corrupt the institution of the news and freedom of the press.

Journalists are short on time to vet information provided by outside sources.  As editorial staffs shrink, there is a decreased ability for the news media to counter press release claims and interrogate those who claim to have relevant knowledge for the story.  All too often, journalists are relaying assertions but not really giving them context or perspective.  Spin doctors, partisan voices and special interests overwhelm those who must judge facts and explore theories.

Too many stories, according to some studies, have been found to be incorrect, biased, or based on only one source.  Further, the media at times fails to disclose conflicts of interest regarding sources.  The independence of the media no longer depends on remaining free from government controls but from the PR industry representing corporations, celebrities, politicians, groups, authors, and so many others.

However, that said, there are more checks and balances on the media – and on those the media reports on.  Citizen journalists online potentially could serve as a means to keep things in line.  But many bloggers and websites lack resources, training, or even the interest in being a watchdog.

For now, publicists are running the newsroom, but that will change once the newsroom expands online and new institutions are formed to ensure the media is truly free.  Until then, be aware of everything you read, see, hear, or download.

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