Markfield: It’s time for a less reductive news media, part 3


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Columnist Harrison Markfield finishes his three-part series ‘It’s time for a less reductive news media.’ 

Harrison Markfield

Editor’s note: This is the final part of “It’s time for a less reductive news media.” Read part 1 here and part 2 here

It would be unfair to talk about news media without having at least some discussion about the people on the other side of the screen. Cable news viewers, while in declining numbers, are not a monolith, and it would be irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Many viewers of daytime cable news — which often lend themselves more to opinionated discussion and debate — probably look something like my grandparents. People our age often do not have cable, a service whose remaining attraction is live sports. Instead our news is sourced from social media or individually trusted online verticals, be it establishment media (obviously, the MSNBC’s and Fox Newses of the world post their content online too) or otherwise.

And to this point, I have yet to mention local news, who are invaluable members of their communities; though they suffer from a rather different kind of problem. And looming over all of this is the exhausting specter of fake news, a subject which I imagine everyone has long since made up their minds about.

It would also be unfair to write this piece without an explanation of my own information gathering and media proclivities. To give an example, I tend not to read legacy media’s coverage of current topics, but rather find media criticism that unflattens the issue and explain why the subject is covered the way it is, and who benefits from said coverage. This is not a blanket statement for my consumption habits — I may not often have much good to say about The Atlantic but am always eager to read one of its columns; Amanda Mull’s Material World  — and I am more than willing to admit that the relationship between my news consumption informing my habits does not make me impartial on any subject, but the same can be said for anybody.  

Nor does my interest in certain angles of coverage make me better than anybody else. Listening to skeptical or more holistic coverage of multibillion dollar industries like technology and college football — my preferred coverage in these areas comes from the podcasts Tech Won’t Save Us and Split Zone Duo, respectively — is differently informing than whatever, say, Vox Media now puts out on either subject.

My interest in urbanism and public transportation comes in no small part from spending my entire conscious life in places that are varying degrees of car-dependent and never learning how to drive. Social media channels like Not Just Bikes or Alan Fisher; people with clear interests — call them agendae if you like — helped substantiate my feelings that there must be a better way; and somebody who found a more conservative path into the subject would of course think about it differently, and that’s fine.

You may also note that many of the articles I have linked come from places like the BBC, Forbes, Bloomberg News and other outlets that I have spent most of these pieces decrying. It is a fair criticism, but one to which I would apply the monolith argument used earlier. I criticized ESPN heavily for being unwilling to discuss cultural issues, but they also have Andscape as one of their verticals, discussing the relationship between race and sport, as well as dedicated women’s sports coverage.

To say that every writer at a given outlet covers an issue the same way or in fealty to some kind of party line would be a flattening of the issue in its own way, and one that would be dangerously disingenuous. The Washington Post’s coverage of Amazon workers unionizing in New York City was covered reasonably well, better than one might cynically expect from a newspaper owned by the founder of Amazon.  

To wrap this missive in as neat of a bow as I can, the prevalence of establishment or legacy media can make it difficult to overcome their presented views on any given subject, but part of media literacy is peering through a flattened landscape to see the gaps left over, diving through them and finding the places willing to talk about things in three-dimensional terms to gain a fuller and nuanced understanding.

Part of this is a function of the Internet; where the flow of information is no longer unidirectional and the opportunity for selectivity bias is everywhere. If you went onto Twitter — or pick your platform of choice, Twitter just happens to be mine — and looked for every time that someone called a favored writer of yours an idiot who should never be listened to and perhaps has worms in their brain, then it may be easy to think that the sanctity of free speech has been ruined.

But free speech has never been a protection of consequences from other’s own opinions, and probably never had much sanctity to begin with. The internet is not a solution or really even a salve for the issue of a fractious media environment, but truthfully I don’t know what is. Like many of America’s social institutions, we all have to decide for ourselves now, like it or now.

The times of our progenitors, where there were only four channels and you had to walk to the television to change them, are long gone. And with it, so should be our idea of what constitutes good coverage. “Unbiased” media and the idea of only reporting the facts was always more of a dream than reality — the history of journalism is often an ignoble one the prevalence of establishment or legacy media can make it difficult to overcome their presented views on any given subject, and a country with more real, material, issues than ever deserves better.

Harrison Markfield is a sophomore in community and regional planning.