I’ve recently started watching Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO show, “The Newsroom.” The same show that has been derided as being overly preachy, amongst other criticisms.
I suspect that after reading this particular blog entry, I might be accused of the same. You see, while I agree that the show certainly has its flaws, I also believe that it speaks the truth on a wider issue.
I don’t think that I need to lawyer up to make a compelling case for the show’s accuracy in its representation of the state of media today.
First hand, I can confirm that press releases are often copied word-for-word (mine have been), and that news outlets spin and re-spin the same news story all packaged in the same manner, endlessly repeating the same stories. That celebrity gossip dominates is no secret either. Nor can it be much of a surprise to discover that many important stories go missing-in-action – often merely because those are not the stories spun by PR folk or have celebrity attachments or bring in the right kinds of ratings. As for investigative journalism…somebody’s got to hire a detective to find it.
Sure, budget cuts are part of the story. Journalists have to do more with less money.
But that’s only part of the story.
You see, I believe that complacency is the larger part of that story.
As you may recall, in one of The Network’s most famous scenes Howard Beale (Peter Finch) sticks his head out of the window and yells, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
But as prophetic as that film was in 1976, there isn’t a mass cluster of journalists sticking their heads out and screaming in unison. I know, I know…Perhaps they are just trying to hold on to the jobs they are lucky to still have, but journalism has to be about more than just holding on.
Collectively, the media world has to stick their heads from below the sand and say, “This can’t go on…” We’re humans, not ostriches (no offence to ostriches).
Instead, it’s a merry-go-round of mediocrity, at best.
Of course there are exceptions, there are still Pulitzer-caliber scribblers out there…scribbling. What I’m talking about is the state of the mass media as a whole – the average Joe media outlets. (I dare not even mention content mills outsourced to far-away countries for a pittance).
Need an example? Just look at the coverage of the recent tragic incident at the movie screening (you know which one). Was the coverage sensationalist? Were most outlets reporting basically the same thing over and over again? Has the coverage been of service to the public? I’ll let you answer for yourself.
So what is it all about? Fear? Job security? Apathy?
I’ve been thinking a lot about great artists, innovators, legends…they have something in common. They have a strong vision and the strength to carry that vision with them. They care so much that they are willing to be brave, to risk, in order to see it through.
I think the problem with journalism is the same as you might encounter at a doctor’s office when the good doc delivers a harsh diagnosis while remaining perfectly detached (and perhaps even whilst checking his twitter), or at a school where a teacher believes that a struggling student is capable of nothing more than mediocrity and sees their role in his education being nothing more than an evaluator and maintainer of averageness.
Perhaps what has happened is that the media has stopped caring. It’s business as usual, whatever works while it’s working. How can we expect them to take risks when they don’t care enough.
And as readers, we’re happy enough to go along with the distractions. We read the gossip. Watch the news re-hashed over and over again. Confuse entertainment with politics. Skim stories rather than reading them. Expect everything to be free and easy. We buy into it all. Though we refuse to pay. We repeat what we read as facts without checking. We’ve become the mass consumer. Complacent. Content with average.
Instead, we should demand more. There comes a time when the carousel is just a bit too dizzying. Everyone knows how it ends if it keeps spinning for too long. To quote, The Producers, “Stop the world! I want to get on!”
This concludes my rant.