🗞 Trust in mainstream media

:newspaper_roll: Trust in mainstream media
0

#1

The past week has been something of an education, or at least a reminder, of the media’s ability to produce something from nothing. It’s relatively trivial, but the ongoing transfer saga of Toby Alderweireld has shown us that facts are not a pre-requisite for publication.

On that same note, propagation of a message, here is an interesting segment from the Conan O’Brien show, intended to be humorous, but something I find a little bit disturbing.

This is supposed to be news, isn’t it? How much room is there for investigative journalism when large sections of the network is regurgitating non-threatening stories about buying a present or ten at Chrimbo?

It’ll be no surprise to anyone here, but I’m deeply cynical about the mainstream media, particularly news reporting. The BBC was gutted after it tried to do the right thing re: Iraq. Channel 4 News seems to be the only UK channel with a bit of editorial bravery.

How much stock do you place in the mainstream media?


#2

None, that is all


#3

Dont treat anything you read or hear as gospel. Get info from various sources and then come to your own conclusions. If you have ever played Chinese Whispers you will know how easy it is to lose the “facts” in translation.


#4

Originally posted by @pap

The past week has been something of an education, or at least a reminder, of the media’s ability to produce something from nothing. It’s relatively trivial, but the ongoing transfer saga of Toby Alderweireld has shown us that facts are not a pre-requisite for publication.

On that same note, propagation of a message, here is an interesting segment from the Conan O’Brien show, intended to be humorous, but something I find a little bit disturbing.

This is supposed to be news, isn’t it? How much room is there for investigative journalism when large sections of the network is regurgitating non-threatening stories about buying a present or ten at Chrimbo?

It’ll be no surprise to anyone here, but I’m deeply cynical about the mainstream media, particularly news reporting. The BBC was gutted after it tried to do the right thing re: Iraq. Channel 4 News seems to be the only UK channel with a bit of editorial bravery.

How much stock do you place in the mainstream media?

This needs a bit of unpacking.

  1. You won’t get ‘investigative journalism’ on local news affiliates – which all of these are. I checked where they’re from, and the list includes: Boise, Idaho; Waco, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Southeastern Alabama; Wilmington, Delaware; Little rock, Arkansas; the ‘Driftless Area’ (!) in Iowa and Minnesota; St Louis, Missouri; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Louisville, Kentucky.

You just aren’t going to get anything but car crashes and bee stings on these affiliates, which are run on a shoestring but feed lots of ad revenue back to the owner networks. For investigative stuff on US network television you go to the excellent 60 Minutes in CBS, the equally excellent Frontline on PBS, 20/20 on ABC or Dateline on NBC. These are well funded and have long ‘lead times’ (absolutely crucial for investigative work).

Any television viewer in the US knows this.

  1. This is not an issue of ‘censorship’. What it is –clearly – is a pre-packed press release, including suggested script content, lazily regurgitated by ludicrously under-staffed, multi-tasking editorial crews. I don’t know who the source of the release is because Conan O’Brien (of Turner Broadcasting) unhelpfully doesn’t say (or is cut off before he says it). But it’s likely to be a large consumer brand or retail chain like WalMart, Staples or Amazon. I don’t know whether the commercial link is made explicit in the individual reports because of the way they’re edited down for comic effect. Either way, it should be an issue for the FCA which regulates American TV.

  2. ‘Mainstream media’ is trotted out lazily as if it explains something. It doesn’t. What possible connection is there between, say, the New Yorker magazine, which has one of the finest investigative track records in the world, with Fox News, a 24/7 trumpet for right-wing, white-rights bigotry?

  3. We are all discerning viewers in one way or another. The idea that ‘media’ whether ‘mainstream’ or otherwise, is the sole source of information or bias-confirmation is absurd. We are pickers and choosers, always have been, always will be. And what determines how we pick and choose can be influenced (but not determined) by anything from the details of our upbringing, our psychological make-up and our class/status position, to, for example, the extent to which we travel and see the world.

  4. So to sweep ‘the BBC’ in its entirety into a dustbin marked cowardly and ‘Channel 4’ into another marked ‘brave’ is oversimplistic. Like all TV networks in the UK, I can find much to object to on C4 (Immigrant Street, for example) and much to admire on the BBC (Bitter Lake, or anything from Arena).

  5. Anyone who’s had contact with any large media outlets (and I had a recent very mild brush with the Daily Mail) knows that things can go pear-shaped – but so they can with small, indie, online media outlets too.


#5

Don’t read too much from my OP, Furball. I’m trying to leave people with room to make their own comments before drowning them out in mine. Excellent post, btw. Welcome back.


#6

Don’t believe any of them.

Only trust Tokes. (even if he is a ****)


#7

It’s probably worth hitting Furball on a couple of his points. Mainstream, by definition, is something of an imprecise and unsatisfying term, either for describing stuff or self-application. That being the case, it’s probably worth laying out what I see as mainstream. It essentially boils down to media organisations that end with a government or multinational corporation. The BBC qualifies, being the public institution that it is. Any of the media empires owned by magnates like Murdoch would also easily fit this category. After all, Top Gear and Coronation Street are both mainstream. No-one would suggest any equivalence.

The commercial aspect of the media cheapens it massively. Let’s be generous and assume that the story repeated word for word is just a consequence of budgets, that this is what networks do to fill airtime with something relatively lighthearted. That may be the case, but there’s clearly a framework in place that facilitates these people to unthinkingly parrot a load of old shite. Trivial in this case, but the fidelity with which that exact message was propagated? Chilling, if you ask me.

There’s also the issue of what could have been put there in its place. It’s not like the world lacks for events, or indeed the resources or mechanisms for people to delve deeper into stories, yet 24 hour news cycles are for the most part, the same half hour package iteratively updated over the course of the day, with a very narrow editorial focus.

Furball is correct, of course, in saying that we are the ultimate controllers of our own content. I myself choose to view a range of propaganda. As I said, I’m cynical, as we should be. I’m trying to keep up with a history undergraduate at the moment, and have spent the past couple of years boning up on ancient, medieval and British history. No matter what the source, no matter the period covered. Historians always view sources with suspicion, and always invite the reader to consider that it could have been propaganda. I know “distance from events” is something that historians either suffer for or benefit from. AJP Taylor’s works on the Second World War, largely taken as authoritative now, were incendiary at the time, precisely because of the distance from events and the need for the West to have felt entirely just about its actions in the war.

Future historians, who’ll perhaps know the context of our world better than we do, will question our sources. Why shouldn’t we?


#8

I would suggest that in this case it is a press release from an advertiser which they were contractually obliged to deliver - known in the UK as advertorial.

This story will have been dressed up as a survey on consumer spending or similar.

Ever read a paper and then thought, why do they mention Halfords/Poundland/McDonalds every other sentence?

Look for the little bit at the top that says advertising feature.

They think we are stupid - sadly many of us are.

Media cuts mean less staff, this means more contributed copy and advertisers wield power.

Even Meridian news drops national features into it and no one bats an eyelid.

The public are being manipulated, as they always have been.

As for chat shows - EVERYONE has an agenda and is trying to sell you something.

The days of celebs just chatting are gone, if you are watching the One Show or Graham Norton you might as well be on the shopping channel.

So trust no one, don’t believe the hype, or at least scan the details and see if there is any real news hiding behind the sell.

This goes for social media too, look at how quickly people pass on stories that are clearly made up, often with sinister agendas like all the anti-Islamic ones.

I don’t believe anything unless I see some facts, only then do I go all kneejerk and overboard with frothing at the mouth!


#9

Having read all about the Aysha King case in the popular press and for once, being more ITK than almost anyone, I have no faith in the popular press whatsoever.


#10

Originally posted by @Rallyboy

I would suggest that in this case it is a press release from an advertiser which they were contractually obliged to deliver - known in the UK as advertorial.

Really not, rallyboy. It was a press release but not an advertorial. If all these stations had disguised advertising in editorial like this they’d have been not only in breach FCC rules but either taken off air or severely fined. Sometimes the line of least resistance is a catchy press release (apparently of commissioned consumer research) dropped into an understaffed local newsroom desperate for copy.


#11

Originally posted by @Furball

Really not, rallyboy. It was a press release but not an advertorial. If all these stations had disguised advertising in editorial like this they’d have been not only in breach FCC rules but either taken off air or severely fined. Sometimes the line of least resistance is a catchy press release (apparently of commissioned consumer research) dropped into an understaffed local newsroom desperate for copy.

Even that distinction is being wilfully eroded these days. The hot new means of advertising is native advertising, stuff that looks like it fits with the rest of the publication, often produced by the same editorial staff that produce the other content. The Guardian has already had a bit of hand-wringing over the issue, with regard to correct labelling.

Before you consider any sinister motives, that’s one of the biggest problems with the media right there; the conflict between being able to inform and being able to operate in a commercial environment. There are several examples of advertisers withdrawing, or threatening to withdraw sponsorship based on content they believe their customers might find controversial. Sometimes that works out in a happy arrangement; people are genuinely disgusted by what they’ve seen. Personally, I’m of the opinion that de-risking is just part of the process now, and that much of the edge is removed before it ever gets a chance to cut the public.


#12

My experience of producing advertorials with the Guardian, was - different team from Editorial content, different (not as good) design, clear sign posting.

My experience with our press team, is yes, the media do pull out sound bites, which is standard and acceptable.

I’m not saying there isn’t a bigger debate to be had, but I’m also not experiencing anything unethical in these particular areas.


#13

I think there is a bigger debate to be had, especially when you consider the origins of the press in this country and its venerated position in society as the guardian of democracy. Independently produced newsletters have been a hallmark of many important political movements in this country, not least the propagation of information related to those being unfairly treated by the state during England’s Civil Wars. While it’d probably be a stretch to describe the literature as being entirely for the people, it definitely was anti-Establishment and in opposition to the powers of the day.

I don’t get that sense with stuff out of the mainstream press. If I had to pick a modern-day counterpart for those newsletters, it would be more likely to be the alternative media that got the nod. I’m not just talking about the outlandish stuff I don the tin foil hat for. I’m talking stuff that just isn’t reported, under-reported or massively biased without appropriate qualification of that bias. The BBC were hugely guilty of the latter during the Gaza crisis last year, lining up “independent” interviewees that anyone with the slightest interest could track back to a pro-Zionist organisation with one Google query. It’s one of the reasons I protested the organisation last year.

Perhaps the difference is expectation. The press has been a hugely important part of our democracy, but I think that its traditional role of being the guardian of our liberties is over. These days, unlike those newsletters, I expect most of it to back the establishment rather than criticise it.


#14

I have had a direct experience with The Sun where a journo ( I use the term losely) asked me to fabricate a meeting so that she could have a follow up story to her original article. I made my excuses and left.


#15

You worked for the News of the World?


#16

I use the term advertorial as I still think there was a contractual obligation - if there wasn’t a deal why would so many use the exact wording?..either way it was clearly sales dressed up as news.


#17

An advertorial in the form of an unannounced contractual obligation between the broadcaster and, say, a retail chain, would be against FCC rules and would result in the loss of the affiliate’s licence. It is even more serious were that blurring to take place during a news broadcast.

Why the exact wording? If you’ve been to any of the places where these affiliates operate you’ll know what hick towns most of them really are. There is no news. But that doesn’t stop the news programmes. There are precious few around actually to write copy, so when a consumer report turns up with prepackaged links (I’ve seen them many times) it’s no surprise they get trotted out on air.

For a depressingly realistic take on how production staff and news crews are organised in the US, go and see Nightcrawler.


#18

You’re dragging me down! The end is nigh… :smile:


#19

Originally posted by @pap

I think there is a bigger debate to be had, **especially when you consider the origins of the press in this country and its venerated position in society as the guardian of democracy. ** Independently produced newsletters have been a hallmark of many important political movements in this country, not least the propagation of information related to those being unfairly treated by the state during England’s Civil Wars. While it’d probably be a stretch to describe the literature as being entirely for the people, it definitely was anti-Establishment and in opposition to the powers of the day.

The press has been a hugely important part of our democracy, but I think that its traditional role of being the guardian of our liberties is over. These days, unlike those newsletters, I expect most of it to back the establishment rather than criticise it.

Those weren’t the origins of the press, though. The origins exhibit exactly the things you complain of. Journalism was a very English-made thing. It was created in the coffee shop culture of the second half of the seventeenth century (sounds odd because we all assume Starbucks is new - but coffee houses were all the rage). The coffee shops were the meeting places for an emerging merchant class (the bourgeoisie, passe Marx), who passed around economic information (the original consumer reports). Two prerequisites were in place by then: the Magna Carta, displacing monarchical absolutism, and the Gutenberg press. As these reports circulated they evolved into the first ‘letters’, and out of this emerged the first journalistic magazines, including The Spectator, which began its run in the early nineteenth century and is, I think, the oldest political/cultural magazine in the English-speaking world.

So in a sense, journalism has always struggled with this tension of freedom from, or entrapment within, commercial interests. These tensions are resolved more decisively in some magazines and papers (The New Yorker, for example) than others (Hello magazine). They are also resolved more decisively with certain writers (Jeremy Scahill, for example), than others (any number of candidates).

So what to do as a reader? As I said earlier we’re pickers and choosers. And we’re like that to such an extent that to ask questions about whether we ‘believe’ or ‘trust’ news organisations is odd. News organisations are not religions that require us to believe in them.

But the obverse is also true: that modern-day absolutists like Putin will always try to subvert this process by which we obtain news by a combination of vicious supression of dissenting voice in the Russian media and a barely credible mimicry of news organisations (as with Russia Today, sponsored by the same state apparatus that breaks the presses and shuts down the online presence of dissenting opinion).

So you don’t have to desire to be on the side of the angels in any of this. The journalistic tradition has always been to struggle to shake off commercial imperatives and say things that may damage those imperatives. Hence our general scepticism. Hence that video montage you began this thread with. But the absolutist alternative is far worse.


#20

I think we’re talking about the same thing; the establishment of newsletters. I’m unsurprised that they weren’t exclusively about the condition of banged up dissidents, but sarcasm aside, I take your point. The worlds of commerce and media have been long intertwined.

Large media companies are a double-edged sword. In the plus column, they’ve got the resources to fight big cases, but then, Private Eye seems to manage alright and goes for the jugular with far more regularity. That’s an example of making a decent choice, btw. They constantly highlight the sort of conflicts of interest that can, and do arise as a result of the fusion between the press and corporate interests. Don’t read the UK press without it.

The flipside of a large company running media is like any large company, it’s ultimately a hierarchical system. I appreciate that much of the content is produced by autonomous companies on a contract basis, but the body commissioning it and signing it off is going to be a hierarchical organisation, ultimately in control of publication, and they are very effective at limiting the control of information and/or placing sanctions on its use.