07 Aug 2011 The Sad Truth About Media Coverage, and a Modest Plan for Reform
The sad truth about media coverage is not just the bias, but the focus.
The country has just had its credit rating downgraded for the first time ever. The cable networks are all over it. So do you suppose the focus is on how to fix it? Only a minority of the coverage, and a small, superficial minority at that, goes in that direction. Mostly, news interviewers want to know: which political party’s fault is it?
The 2012 presidential campaign has begun. Unemployment, economic growth, government spending and tax policy are hugely important issues for the public just now. Does the news media focus on the positions of the various candidates on these issues? A little bit, but mostly, it’s just about who’s going to win. Which they don’t even know.
Just read an article on the MSNBC website, “The Sad Truth Behind London Riot.” The article concludes, “the bonfire had been prepared by years of neglect, fueled by the anger of young men with no stake in the system, angry at everybody…” But what neglect? Why do young men not have ‘a stake in the system’? Britain has a strong safety net. Lots of public housing. The “free” government-run health care system American leftists covet. Public schools are free except for college, and for that you can get government loans you don’t even have to start paying back until you have a good-paying job. So why are the young men (only men?) so angry? MSNBC doesn’t say why. Worse, one gets no sense from the article that the reporter thinks it’s a question journalists should look into. No, they’re just there for the fire.
Unless you work for the press, there’s not a lot you can do about superficial media coverage directly, but there’s a lot you can do indirectly. The news media is in this game for the money. As far as they’re concerned, the more viewers/listeners/readers, the better. So if you agree with me, make a point of watching/hearing/reading some of the policy stuff. If your favorite cable news station covers the Iowa caucuses or approval rating polls or starts name-calling for the zillionth time, switch to CSPAN or something else or just turn off the tube for a while. If a talk host in your area talks about issues in some reasonable depth, listen a little more often. If you read the news on the Internet, read a few more policy articles on for-profit news websites (even if you have to search for them). Click on links that look wonky, even if you read only a portion of the article.
In other words, drive up the ratings for the good stuff.
If we increase the demand for better journalism, even if it is just each of us for just a few minutes a day, over time, supply just might follow.
It’s worth a try. Who’s with me?