Monday, September 21, 2009

Confusing ourselves to death?

In July, The Pew Research Center for The People and The Press, issued poll results that show only 29 percent of respondents believe the news media “get their facts straight” and only 19 percent feel the media “deal fairly with all sides.”

The results are record lows in both regards.

What’s going on?

Since 1985, when Pew’s annual polling began, “media” have changed as much as media’s perceived accuracy and fairness.

“Media” then is not “media” today. It’s as different as Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity.

I find no evidence in the poll results of whether “The People” still even value fairness and accuracy, (which are objects of subjective judgment to begin with).

Is Rush Limbaugh part of “the media”? Yes. Does he purport to report? Yes. Is he fair and accurate? No. Do his listeners want him to be fair and accurate and get all sides of the story? No.

Likewise the so-called newscasters (those with the active eyebrows and the sneering intonations) on Fox, other cable news outlets and radio talk shows.

And then there’s John Stewart and “The Daily Show.” Many of my students rely on Stewart for their "news." Fair and accurate? Do those quaint values even apply? Do they matter?

Pew should poll whether “fairness and accuracy” are still the coin of the media realm.

Increasingly, “The People” want to be entertained. (The late Neil Postman appropriately titled his incisive, troubling book about television news, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”)

And now the “new media” allow “The People” themselves to be the entertainers. Their own blurring of the lines between news and entertainment only compounds our confusion.

Perhaps we are now confusing ourselves to death. And this IS a confusing, and, some warn, dying world.

Many “new media” communicators model their behavior after what they see as “news” on their screens.

Their behavior, much of it outrageous, is then dubbed “the news.” Think “birthers,” “tea-baggers” and “Swift boaters.”

Legitimizing their antics as “news” is itself unfair and inaccurate. But does that matter in a world of entertainment and confusion?

And I’m a small part of this “new media” world. The very words you are reading now are not “news,” although what I am writing may strike you as being somehow novel.

Is it “fair”? Is it “accurate”? I don’t know. Are the terms relevant? That’s for you to decide. Reader (listener) beware.

I won’t worry if I’m lumped in with “media” that only 29 percent deem accurate and 19 percent consider fair.

Somehow, sadly, the times and the media have moved beyond Pew’s questions.

The pressing question is this: What questions should Pew, and the rest of us, be asking?

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