Monday, February 22, 2010

What is wrong with the media

The mainstream media is struggling financially. Entertainment goes, but when it comes to information, we see big losses. At the same time, we observe the gain in popularity of the so-called non-professional media, blogs, specialized websites, freelance journalism, etc. We don't consume less information. This is not the cause of the corporate media losses. With the advent of the Internet people are actually more informed. This inverse correlation between the success of non-professional media and corporate media is not due to a change in demographics, or to a change in our need for information. We are actually seeing a shift of information consumers from the second category to the first.

Why are people going for alternative media? The most important reasons are the quality of information and the trust invested in the information source.

Some of us say that money and greed have destroyed the quality of professional journalism. On one side, revenue grows with the number of readers. Appealing to the greatest number means reducing the level of complexity, therefore, diminishing the quality of information. Moreover, going for what the majority likes means going for entertainment. On the other side, money comes from advertisement, and these media corporations couldn’t resist to turn almost every article into an infomercial.

Others point to the loss of local content due to the conglomeration of the media and to the effort to render the business more efficient. The same article is now repeated in many publications that belong to the same conglomerate. These articles must be general in order to generate a local interest.

Others see more than just the hunger for profits. Political motivations infiltrated the corporate media as it consolidated over the years. The general opinion at this moment is that the mainstream media is biased. People have lost confidence. The Iraq war was probably the most important event that made this fact obvious even to the most ardent believer.

However, this is not the entire truth. People see the big media serving the business on one side, and the politics on the other side. We the people are in the middle. We are the source. The source of what? The source of everything! We produce the wealth. We maintain the elite to leave their lavish lives. And who’s the big media? Well, I guess they mingle within the same social circles with the politicians, the bankers, and the CEO-s. They are the same people! The big media doesn’t care about the quality of information. The scheme they’ve been pulling on us for so long is to make us pay THEM for our own indoctrination (which serves the political agenda), and for our own brainwashing for consumption (which serves the economical agenda). Their goal is disinformation, to make us politically impotent, efficient workers, and good consumers. The corporate media forms us!

So what is the problem? Well, their scheme doesn’t work anymore. Their model is no more viable. They cannot form us and ask us to pay for it anymore, for the simple reason that an alternative to their service came into existence. Their scheme works only if they monopolize the production and the distribution of content. The Internet fucked-up their little game. How did this happen?

People have the natural drive to express themselves. We are social beings. We like to tell others what we see, and what we experience. The Internet made this possible. At the beginning people expressed themselves through emails. Interesting stories were sometimes jumping viral from one person to another. You see, we also like to pass to others what we consider a good story. And then, the bandwidth increased and web2.0 arrived. This made it possible for individuals to express themselves in a more complex manner. As time went by, some individuals became good at reporting and analyzing information, and gained some reputation in the online world. They attracted more and more readers, and established themselves as a reliable source of information. They acquired real value, which was not granted by a piece of paper attesting their ability to discern truth from falsehood. These are the non-professional journalists. As the alternative arose, more and more disillusioned media consumers turned to alternative sources. Big media thought that the secret was to put their content online. They tried this, but it didn’t stop the bleeding.

What should the professional media do in these circumstances? This question is discussed today in many forums, and I feel that most of the proposed solutions don’t address the real problem. Some put into question the future of professional journalism. Others criticize the quality of information produced by non-professionals, its segmentation, its radicalization, etc. There will always be a need for individuals properly trained for investigation and for discernment. But who is going to pay these people to do their job properly? Until now they were supported by the media industry, which is in trouble now. So the industry needs to restructure. However, the bloggers and the freelancers or the non-professional journalists with an established reputation are there to stay. The guy in Iran shooting a video in Tehran during the popular uprising and writing a few words on his blog is also important. Let’s not make the same mistakes as these people during the Renaissance that were criticizing the printed book for spreading content for pleasure and passion instead of for science, philosophy and theology; for being poorly written; or for spreading ideas against the church. The same explosion of information happened at that time, new genres of literature were created, some of them of bad taste, others that become classics. Despite all the criticism, the printed book flourished. The printing technology also made it possible to distribute time-sensitive content. The periodical was created. A newspaper at that time was like the blog of today, local people expressing contextual and timely information.

In my opinion, new media organizations must be created that will work with the non-professional journalist, as well as with the guy in Tehran. The role of the journalist is to sort through all the content produced and distributed through all existing channels, verify the veracity of the information, dig more if necessary, and provide analysis. There will always be a market for good content, and the Internet today gives a tremendous opportunity to gather more information and to discover new leads. The Internet is a gold mine for a media organization, and it must be treated as such. Don't always expect to find chunky nuggets, you need to extract, purify, refine. But I have serious doubts that the elite can continue to employ the media to further their agenda, for the simple reason that they have no more control over the production and the distribution of information.


Left Progressive Media Inside the Propaganda Model; By Peter Phillips and Project Censored

Introduction: In Manufacturing Consent (1988; and updated in Herman,1996). Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky claim that because media is firmly imbedded in the market system, it reflects the class values and concerns of its owners and advertisers. According to Herman and Chomsky, the media maintains a corporate class bias through five systemic filters: concentrated private ownership; a strict bottom-line profit orientation; over-reliance on governmental and corporate sources for news; a primary tendency to avoid offending the powerful; and an almost religious worship of the market economy, strongly opposing alternative beliefs. These filters limit what will become news in society and set parameters on acceptable coverage of daily events. Read more...

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