June 12, 2007

And here is (not) the news

Filed under: Media — 4fooey @ 10:50 pm

Tony Blair today gave a critique of the state of the media and in particular news coverage – no doubt some will say it’s a bit rich coming from him, since he is regarded as someone who has managed the press more than most. If you analyse what he said, much of it is true:-
1. “scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting.”
2. “attacking motive is more potent than attacking judgement.”
3. “the fear of missing out means today’s media … hunts in a pack” – meaning that they largely all report the same stories.
4. “rather than just report news, … the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So – for example – there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean” – this is most clearly seen, for example, on the main BBC 10 o’clock News where they will show a person speaking somewhere and the reporter will add their voice over giving their summary or interpretation of what was said – such a report may last 2-3 minutes, so in this case, why not replay several clips of the person actually speaking and then the viewer can make up their own mind.
5. “the confusion of news and commentary.”
Here is the full text of Blair’s speech: Blair on the media.

In the media’s constant search for sensation, and to get one over their competitors, they tend to polarise everything. Blair says “Things, people, issues, stories, are all [made] black and white [by the media]. Life’s usual grey is almost entirely absent. “Some good, some bad”; “some things going right, some going wrong”: these are concepts alien to today’s reporting. It’s a triumph or a disaster. A problem is “a crisis”. A setback is a policy “in tatters”. A criticism, “a savage attack”.” And he’s right. As he points out in the speech, he’s not trying to blame anyone, he’s pointing out the trend of the media and news reporting in particular straying further from the truth. The only newspaper I think that appears to be the nearest to simply reporting facts, is the Financial Times – as well as all the business related information, their news coverage seems fairly neutral.

I mentioned the main BBC 10 o’clock – the trend Blair was talking about can be seen on this program. The main newsreader no longer reads the news, as it happened, they introduce the story and hand over to someone else who usually provides a short summary of the main points of the story, or they will provide their view of the story – Hugh Edwards or Fiona Bruce (it’s usually one of them) will ask the reporter a number of ‘dumb’ questions in a quasi-interview and the reporter will answer, all scripted or heavily rehearsed. I think the BBC reporters are reasonably unbiased but the whole program is more subjective, and the news program itself is crafted more like any other program.

And why does it matter – I think a lot of this is just how it is today, nothing or no-one can change it, but as Blair suggested, the whole way news & issues are reported tends to blur fact and interpretation, into a kind of fiction, a narrative, a parallel to what actually happens. Even the story of Blair giving this speech about the media was reported as though he was criticising the media – but if you read the full text, it is more of a summary of the current state of things in the media.


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