The film Rashomon taught us that truth isn’t always the same thing for every person. People may see and subsequently process events differently. This reminded me of a real-life classic example of this – the murder of Kitty Genovese in NYC in 1964. Witnesses to the event had differing accounts, or were simply participants in what is known as the Bystander Effect.
In the article by Adam et al., the authors make sure to separate the two ideas and intertwine them with discussions of democracy, ethics and morality, authorship and craft. If I could think of one question to summarize this reading, it would be: Are the media and journalism the same thing? The answer, however, is not as simple as the question.
As a former undergraduate English literature major, I especially enjoyed the quote by Lillian Ross of The New Yorker: “Every now and then,” she said, “journalism has been found to be timeless; and its writers have been considered to be on a par with the best in literature” (Adams et al., p. 239). We forget that we have a moral obligation – and the desire to “entertain” (p. 248) trumps our need to deliver information that is factual, but also “concerned with…governance and social understanding” (p. 248).
A major focus of the article was democracy. “Journalists as authors have duties as citizens to other citizens—to speak to them in their own language, to make wise news judgments, and to be empirical, forthright, honest, independent, eloquent, thoughtful, and reliable” (p. 250).
After reading this article, I am left to think: How did we get so far away from these pure and morally correct premises? If one is to survey the state of the mainstream news media today, how many of those tenets are actually being adhered to? Close to none. Democracy is a fine concept, but is it too idealistic for journalism done in a world of competing corporate interests? Professors in this college remind us that mainstream media is, at the end of the day, a business. Thus, are we expecting too much?
The discussion of facts was vital, as summed up by Hersey’s quote about the “one sacred rule of journalism… the writer must not invent” (p. 252). In the Preface section, the authors address “journalism students” directly. I think that this should be a required piece of reading for undergrads—many of who don’t fully understand the seriousness of truth and avoidance of any falsification. They just don’t understand the severity of punishment it can bring—cases of inaccuracies or just plain falsifications, like NYT’s Jayson Blair and Judith Miller. When I teach, I tell my students that the course policy is to deduct 50 points for fact errors. They moan and complain whenever they make a mistake. But I am quick to remind them that it’s better to lose 50 points on an assignment now than to lose your job and blow your whole career later. I think the concept of ethics is a foreign concept to people of my generation. Exacerbated by the fast-paced landscape of the digital world and social media, ethics just doesn’t register high on the priority list. We’re used to posting something and deleting it if we made a mistake or things don’t go as planned. That is why Adams and his colleagues said, “to write well and truly is to be clear and faithful to the truth of the facts, of the news, of a situation, or of life itself. The pathways to such truth and clarity are not easily followed.”
I found out in reading Carey’s piece that communication transmission originated in religion (p. 15), which makes sense considering its “ritualistic” nature (p. 18). It reminds me of the inherent sense of bureaucratic privilege that is associated with religion – there is one preacher, priest, or spiritual leader that is in charge of delivering a divine word, and everyone else is just a listener. This view is refuted by Carey, who says the ritualistic view of communication “downplays the role of the sermon… in order to highlight the role of the prayer” (p. 18). So essentially, it isn’t the medium that matters most, but the message.
Carey buttresses his arguments with discussion of a ruling class and class interactions. It reminds me of knowledge gap theory, which claims people of lower socioeconomic status (SES) have less access and use for mass media. For poor populations particularly, “the mass media are not viewed as providers of useful information” (Chatman & Pendleton, 2010, p. 135).
When David Gauntlett wrote “Ten things wrong with the media effects model,” he was clearly impatient with the lack of clarity when it comes to audiences and media effects. His piece basically turns social science research by people like Bandura on its head. When it comes to youth consumption of violent media, the commonly prescribed solution was to eliminate that type of media because it was thought to be harmful and a powerful impetus to promoting violent behavior. Gauntlett says we shouldn’t be eliminating this type of media because there is no effect. What is a viable solution, then? Though I don’t necessarily agree with everything stated in his piece, he raises many good points that got me thinking – particularly in his section about conservative ideologies (section 3): “A broader conservative project to position the more contemporary and challenging aspects of the mass media, rather than other social factors, as the major threat to social stability today.” It’s true – we really love pegging one thing as the end-all-be-all of a certain behavior. In my current thesis research on media portrayals of NFL athlete suicides, I’m finding out that the media love that “magic solution.” They want to say that depression, or divorce, or substance abuse or concussions was the factor that caused the athlete to end his life. But we must remember that, as Gauntlet said, there are multiple factors to each problem and/or issue.
DQ: How can we motivate people to consume media outside of their own personal tastes? i.e., how can we get people to move past the consistency theory and consuming media that “gratifies” a certain need?
*Nota bene: On an unrelated note, I am finding it to be very thrilling to be able to express my true personal opinion when reading these scholarly works. Many times we feel afraid to criticize or bring in our personal experiences and opinions because it’s seen as less credible than simply restating facts from the literature at hand. As journalists, we are taught to uphold the principles of objectivity and un-biasedness, when it’s not even clear what those concepts really mean. I am glad I get the opportunity in this class to provide my take on current media and journalism-related issues and concepts. 🙂
But for concerns about truth and accuracy, this is a good place to start.
Nicki Karimipour; firstname.lastname@example.org