Monday, April 28, 2008

Feelings, nothing more than fe-e-e-lings

I was chatting with someone the other day (isn’t this how all my thoughtful blog posts usually start?) about bias in the media. That’s not what the conversation started out with, but nonetheless that is where it ended up, and where I am tonight. And as I always do, my disclaimer is that I claim no special revelation here – it is merely a blog post by a bear with very little brain.

So…bias in the media. Conservatives rage about the liberal media, and liberals get equally vituperative about conservative news outlets. The impetus for the discussion started out about the “rice crisis” and the fact that Sam’s Wholesale Club had started putting limits on how many bags of rice each customer could purchase.

Food prices in general have been rising, due to a number of issues including the falling dollar and the rising cost of oil. But I’m not here to talk about food prices – I’m here to talk about how the media talks about food prices! The media has several divergent goals – put forth news stories that people will be interested in, sell advertising space (either through commercials or sidebar ads or old fashioned columnar print), and finally broadcast information … NEWS … that ordinary folks need to know. So, take CNN Headline News for example. It’s what, a 30 minute format with maybe… 15 minutes of commercials? So how do they decide what to report in the remaining 15 minutes? They want to air segments that sell ads and evoke emotion in the viewers. Since I’m using broadcast news as my example, I’ll stick with broadcast news language – substitute “online articles” and “readers” if it makes you feel better! So, depending on who they perceive as their viewers, that’s how they choose their stories because that’s how they get the viewers and thus the ad time.

Anyway, some media offerings are merely sensational: cue car chases and Britany stories and the current “who killed Diana” theories; some go for the granola stories: seas rising in Fiji because of cow methane, Earth Day events, and the hole in the ozone; others try the social justice angle: oppressed African Americans, open borders, and immigration issues; and yet others appeal to the conservative: Homeland security, economics, and homeschooling legislation. Each of these is designed to elicit an emotional response from viewers. Once you understand which emotion a particular story is aimed at, then you can view it with an eye for the tidbit of actual *news* ensconced within.

And any single news story can be spun to fit any number of emotional groups. So you watch a segment on the recent riots in Haiti on two different stations. One calls it a riot of hungry people sparked by the shortage of food, another calls it a protest against rising food prices. The first media outlet is geared to the social justice crowd, and the latter perhaps favors the typical conservative tendencies. So as Nietzsche might posit, there is really no such thing as an “objective” point of view. Knowing that, it makes watching the news a bit more palatable for me. Less like a root canal and more like…hmm…fingernails on a chalkboard?

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