The Deaf Claque

Because they’re worth clapping for…probably…

Op-Ed: A Political News Media Form

Central to the theory of the constitutional republic is the press—or news media—as a facilitator of political discourse as well as a means of political information of the masses (5). It follows then that any constitutional republic must therefore contain and utilize a body that serves this purpose; the United States, as an example of this governmental mode, must adhere to this basic principle. In opposition to this view is the argument that the contemporary news media should shape their output material with readings of informational or program popularity as its main content barometer.

Constitutional framer Alexander Hamilton argued for a dynamic conception of the press, with respect to its liberties and restraints, subject to the opinions of the people (1). This point is often extended to argue in defense of “infotainment”—a form of media that mix information and entertainment in response to the reception of the people—and includes stories of which the chief aim of content is to entertain rather than to inform (4). Playing to popularity in this way is not universally bad; there are some important points to be made regarding this. First, a definition of the news must be understood: in an article for The Poynter Institute, David Zeeck thinks of news as a “manifestation of a human desire to know what’s going on” (6). This definition provides for a wide variety of interpretations as to the role of the news media by the way in which they fulfill this desire. Based on this understanding it is clear to see that the media in general must be separated into categories depending on the specific desires each category intends to fulfill; news of which the chief am is to fulfill the desire to be entertained should be distinct from that of which the chief aim is to provide a platform for political discourse. Key to understanding this concept of media compartmentalization is the idea that the chief nature of the specific material must cohere to the desire to be fulfilled.

A perfect example of an improper mixing of material under a single category is Bill O’Reilly’s interview with “Obama Girl,” a sensationalist political icon from this past election. In one of his intended “hard news”—news concerning issues of import—segments devoted to the 2008 presidential campaign, O’Reilly interviews “Obama Girl,” legitimizing in the sphere of public political discourse sensationalism that is irrelevant to critical political evaluation (3). There is a place in the media for entertaining news and a place for news relevant to political discourse but issues of the former should never be cast as that of the latter. Journalist Christopher Patton argues that viewers of infotainment programs such as The Daily Show actually are among the most informed and therefore this form of infotainment can be and is a good thing (4). However, the problem with this argument is that it assumes a link of causality between viewership and viewer knowledge that cannot be derived from mere correlation: this finding only states that these viewers are more informed, not why they are more informed.

Finally, the strongest argument in support of the news media as a function of popularity is that hard news is more difficult to sell and that news should be sensationalized in order to retain the attention of viewers—surely if there are no viewers, the material presented is pointless (2). Stephen Harrington, contributor to Journalism, argues that if the content and means of analyzing supposed hard news is altered in order to gain popularity, the content can become something that can no longer be considered hard news and therefore fails in its purpose to serve public political discourse. It should be explicitly noted that this argument holds true only in the specific case that the actual substantial content of the news is altered for purposes of viewership.

There are, however, ways of getting around the problems of low interest in hard news and a degradation of the political news media in the seeming failure to adequately provide for responsible public discourse. This solution rests on three key points. First, the general media should be divided up based on the intent of the content itself: political news media should be distinct from entertainment news media. Second, the primary mission of the political news media must be to educate the public and to encourage honest, accountable political discourse on all levels. Lastly, the way in which the political news and analysis is presented must be enjoyable but the content itself must not be altered as a result. There is no reason why political discourse must be drab in order to be considered legitimate. Indeed, it is conceivable for a model similar to The Daily Show to be implemented in the political news media but with a distinct focus on hard news, solid discourse, and the use of comedy only as tool of analysis. The issue of media functionality and purpose is much more complex than many give it credit for and therefore should not be thought of in terms of simply “popularity or education,” but in terms of how it best serves both society and individuals’ interests.

References:

1. The Federalist Papers No. 38

2. Popular News in the 21st Century (Journalism)

3.

4. In Defense of Infotainment

5. The Role of Media in Democracy

6. Toward a Definition of News

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Journalism, Nathan Schmitt, The Media | Leave a comment

Ron Suskind’s Interview on NPR

Tonight OPB aired an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind whose new book, The Way of the World, came out this past Tuesday, August 8th. In it, he puts forward harsh allegations against the Bush Administration based on credible sources–the most important of which are on the record–with respect to misleading the American people on the path to war.

The interview follows. Click here then click on the “Listen now” button on the top of NPR’s page.

August 7, 2008 Posted by | Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Impeachment, Iraq War, Journalism, Terrorism, The Media, White House | , , , , , | Leave a comment