Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Danger of Being Comfortable

You're probably sick of me writing about how much I love Nicholas Kristof. I confess, I don't read his columns every week, but whenever I do, I am comforted to read the reasoned thoughts of an honest-to-goodness journalist, the real deal... not someone who gets themselves a blog or a TV show, spouts their opinion (hiding behind the "I'm asking questions no-one else will!" crap when we know full-well why people aren't asking those questions...because they're skewed!), and considers themselves in the same standing as Murrow. Oof, it makes my blood boil I tell you!

Today's column is particularly brilliant. Kristof takes on the idea that the fall of national newspapers, due to our scampering to the vast range of "news" sources online, spells trouble. Not just for the newspaper industry but for society as a whole, because left to our own devices, we have been searching out only those news sources that confirm our own world views or prejudices, because that is more COMFORTABLE than reading newspapers or watching traditional news shows that challenge our preconceptions.

He goes on to point out that the movement is just one symptom of a larger problem -- that we, as a country, are holing ourselves up both figuratively and physically, amongst those just like us. In the wake of the recent election, I felt that effect acutely here in LA, where the overwhelmingly "blue" nature of this town is mostly comfortable to me (gimme that healthcare! Cut that war out!)... until I start talking to people about traditionally "red" issues like, say, abortion. You all know how I feel about that! (I still treausre that discourse so deeply in my heart. Thankyou guys!). I remember a friend saying to me, "I've never actually met anyone who believes what you do". I like to think that suddenly, those people on the other side of where she stood were 3-dimensional, not just a bunch of kooks trying to control other people's lives.

Isn't that a sad state of affairs? Isn't a melting pot of ideas better than a homogenized one?

I can't put it better than Kristof, so here you go:

Something to think about, anyway. What do you think? Am I over-reacting? Do you think that you get a variety of news-related opinions/news sources every day? What news sources do you check out on a daily basis?




shinfain said...

interesting ancillary story to this whole issue, with one publishing giant trying to figger it out...

i hadn't thought of this whole line of thinking, finding myself more akin to the "well good cause who reads those things anyway" internet-hopper...

it does continue to degrade the monoculture... or, rather, leaves some terrible stuff as the sole bearer of the monocultural standard (american idol, etc.) as we all go into our smaller and smaller sub-groups of sub-groups, only poking our groundhog-like heads out to bellow at strangers...

ALTHOUGH as nuclear war remains an impending threat and this whole mass-organization thing we call nations might fall to bits at any moment, it may either A) provide a new organizational palate for smaller "nations" or, of course, B) help people find the dividing line between "us" and "the others" since we all eventually look for someone to hate...


Patty Jean Robinson said...

I've come to learn not to like the news lately - because they not only focus on the the horribleness that is out there in the world - but they spend every waking moment talking about the same issue, glorifying every minute detail as they come out, and yet somehow I don't hear about other happenings in the world. Unless it has to do with loss of life. For awhile I was just turning to celebrity "news." That even after was not only shallow, but just again, glorified over and over and over again. It's draining.
I don't know how to find a news source that I trust, because right now it just seems to be so much extra effort. I don't know how to find news sources that examine what's happening in the world and that will provide an actual Big Picture. Is it possible?

aartilla the fun said...

that is a good point patty jean. i agree; listening to the news has been stressful, especially, and i hate to say it, NPR. i think they're getting a little better though -- this morning, morning edition offered "team coverage" on... hair: to shampoo or not to shampoo etc. it was light, silly and i gratefully ate it up! and just now, anderson cooper did a story about michelle obama's appearance at a local school for girls.

what i can tell you though is that newspapers are a lot... quieter. they often will offer the full spectrum of coverage that we theoretically crave. or heck, i check out yahoo news more often that i check out anything else.

i get your point. totally. we in the news business (especially tv and cable) have gotten a little too obsessed with covering every single angle on one story, more so than when i first started working. i'm hardly a veteran, but i think that aspect of the business definitely needs to change. however, there's no arguing that the events of the past few years have been monumental, historical, almost unprecedented... and i think they're just trying to do it justice. does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

the only question i have is how does anyone know which source can be trusted over all? i don't like the big brother aspect of one source being how we get our info (although i know that's not what you guys are saying at all. so i think diversity is great, it's up to the individual to be responsible and figure out what is shit and what is not for themselves.

is what people doing really a matter of just listening to the source that agrees with them...or is it that they have made a decision based on whatever reasons they are, that it's the source for them because they trust it based on their own research and comparing info etc. for most hopefully, but i do know that it's a sad thing that some people get their news (and believe it) from tabloids etc.

i think that by default we tend to hang out with people that are like's in our nature, and although it can be uncomfortable to hear views or facts that don't jibe with our internal makeup, we need to do it, and control the "bellow at strangers" impulse at one another (i love that bren) and really listen and make up your own mind instead.

i love that you guys put what you think out some countries we'd be hauled away for doing this.


aartilla the fun said...

laura -- i guess this is where my misanthropic side comes out.

i don't think that, with all the fullness of our lives, people devote the time and research you mentioned... that's necessary to parse out which news sources tend to report the truth all the time. rather, i think we tend to gravitate to those news sources (especially the newer ones online) that uncover either salacious headlines (eg. drudge report) or report stories that confirm our own concepts of what's right and what's true... (whether that's huff post or fox news). those sources don't often report the other side of the story.

so yeah, i agree, it COULD be that people are gravitating away from newspapers because they've read everything that newspaper has had to say over the past year or so, and having done so, come to the conclusion that that newspaper is bunk... but i find that very unlikely. i think the chronic issue of the vast majority of people not caring about the news (especially international stuff), or at least news that doesn't affect them, has now been compounded by the availability of the kind of news we don't have to challenge ourselves to read/listen to/comprehend/take issue with.

and yes, thank goodness we can talk about all this freely!


Anonymous said...

sadly i think you are right about people not looking into stuff for themselves...and that is such a shame.

then again, what do i know? i get my news from the Us Magazine ; )

Andy said...

We're seeing two things happen:
1) a convergence of marketing and journalism. This is even happening at a curricular level back in the halls of Medill. I don't really agree with this, fundamentally. Truth will not be better served by catering to the even-changing whims of the audience.

2) A social media revolution that puts the power of voice into the hands of everyone (with a computer, we'll talk digital divide later). I don't toss out revolution lightly. No one knows how this is going to shake down, and it will take a few (several?) years to figure out where everyone stands.

I'm in favor of #2, especially, but I know how painful it's going to be. It happens to coincide with the economic revolution we're experiencing, which at some level is hard, but they also feed and help each other. We've all got to figure out the value of our craft. It's no different for newspeople. I've much more worried about the loss of the local daily than the big mainstream news sources. I know many locals were owned by corporations, but I still think there is hope for building local economies to report on what matters to those constituents. In this case, we can argue that we are homogenizing our news based on what is comfortable in a region (and I know some regions are more diverse than others), but it's the lesser of two evils when compared to corporate-maligned truth.

The free Internet has established an unsustainable set of expectations for news consumers and we'll need to speak with our wallets. If this is done a local/micro level I feel that we will be in less danger of catering unknowingly to big corporate interests. As we move into a world where we expect important information to find us, we do get lazier. And we start just listening to what our friends our saying. But is it really that different from choosing the mainstream newspaper/TV network/magazine with the same political leaning you hold? I mean, how much do people really step outside that comfort zone anyway?

In marketing, people want to hear from people like themselves. In news, ostensibly we all just want the truth. Since truth transcends experience, we'll never really reach it, but the goal is to get as close as possible. All reporting carries bias, and if you understand someone's basic point of view, you can reach a reasonable conclusion about the quality/relevance of their perspective. For me, I think John Stewart has gotten it right for years. Satire is a powerful tool if used correctly.

rustyboy said...

You've tapped in to one of the (many) reasons I chose to not work in media any longer. But also, there's a famous quote by Henry Miller addressing the fact that man reads the headlines and nothing more of the story. Something like that. I'm a bit (read:WAY) too lazy to suss it out.

I think it's in our nature (mankind, that is) to get what we want from what we read, see, hear , whether it be from Drudgereport (shudder) or the single newspaper available in our quaint, 1920s town. Or a cave drawing.

Even word of mouth news-delivery waaaaay back in the day had this same effect. But on the flipside, it's pretty damned cool to read other opposing views and have them available to challenge my own core beliefs.

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