Reporting Run by Profits?
March 28, 2003 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Will the web be the only place left to cover "unpopular" stories? Exhibit A: This WP article reporting that media consultants are recommending TV and radio not to cover protests. (It's unpopular, therefore decreases ratings and therefore bad for business). Exhibit B: Clear Channel tells their stations to ban the Dixie Chicks (Clear Channel wants to get in good with Bush). Exhibit C: Courts rules the media have no obligation to tell the truth. Will a distributed or topic-specific IndyMedia be the best or main source for deviant news? Something like the The Internet Topic Exchange or pb's recent peacetrack? Another reason to work on the Metafilter Online Journalism Project? [more inside]
posted by gramcracker (41 comments total)
Fast forward a pessimistic 10 years, and will polls and majorities dictate what stories make the news? If everything media-wise just yields to profits and popularity, are weblogs and Trackback-enabled categories and next-generation content aggregation mechanisms the only way we'll find much in the way of non-mainstream news?
posted by gramcracker at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2003

Youbetcha. Because conservatives are far more likely than liberals to, say, patronize the companies that sponsor their favorite radio host/sport/television commentator. These are the people the advertisers want to court, and therefore the people station management wishes to court.

Where's the liberal Rush Limbaugh - with the same reach in syndication? Where's the network with the same pronounced liberal bias as FOX's conserative bias? They don't exist, not because there isn't a constituency for what they have to say, but because that audience does not lend the same kind of financial support.
posted by kgasmart at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2003

I find it interesting that so many distrust big media yet trust the internet when it comes to news. Yet on the internet there is no accountability. At least with big media (at least some sources) there is professional accountability. On the web you can pretend to be and say anything. %99 of the documents I see being posted on MeFi in support of pro and anti war come from unknown sources. They look real, but how do we know? There are many cases of complete fabrications and I imagine some countries have rooms full of monkeys turning out conspiracy theories and the "source" documents to prove it. This is why I'm very critical about accountability on any claim made. Just because someone who looks and sounds official said it's so doesn't make it so.
posted by stbalbach at 12:37 PM on March 28, 2003

Here's another unpopular story. I wouldn't know where to turn for news if it wasn't for the web.
posted by muckster at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2003

Fast forward a pessimistic 10 years, and will polls and majorities dictate what stories make the news?

Majority interest has always dictated what stories make "the news." Newspapers, magazines, television and web news sources have always printed stories that were of interest to their readers and always will. It's the only way to get interested eyeballs to browse the headlines and buy the paper, watch the show, follow the banner ad.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2003

it's too bad investigative journalism went out of style.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:44 PM on March 28, 2003

Another reason to work on the Metafilter Online Journalism Project?

Damn right, another reason. What the hell happened to this? Are we gonna do it or not? Are Matt and/or Rusty going to help or not? Is everybody who was in on the first blush now just waiting till the war is (and hell freezes) over, or what?

Not to derail, or anything. I was just wondering.
posted by soyjoy at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2003

kgasmart, as somebody who leans towards the liberal point of view I actually don't want a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh. He's actually fits in perfectly with stbalbach's description of the current state of the internet. He makes an assertion, backs it up by stating "I've done extensive research on this" but never makes his sources available. Most of my officemates worship him and then use him as the authoritative voice to prove their views. He's not even somebody with an agenda on a net, he's highly paid to do this.

To be honest I don't even want a liberally leaning media, what I would really like to see is a media that just reports, investigates and researches without an agenda or bias. It doesn't mean that the conclusions reached will be correct, but at least they won't be reality as paid for by the Democratic, Libertarian or Republican parties. Human nature says that this is a more or less unattainable desire, people have agendas and hatchets to bury. There are people that try to expose the spin and do it pretty evenly on either side of the political fence but that's because they see a niche to report on that, not so much that they want unbiased reporting (or that's what they would do)
posted by substrate at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2003

New MoJo category: fact checker, aka, something not currently used by corporate media.

Bring back the Fairness Doctrine.
posted by nofundy at 12:53 PM on March 28, 2003

Liberal radio is on its way, kgasmart, although I totally agree with you that financial backing is a major cause. Who's got the money? Big business. Where does big business typically align itself? With conservatives.

Wouldn't some sort of economic argument hold, however, that if there's 30% of people that are anti-war in the US, that there's a 30% market for anti-war news? And if you can get that 30% to watch more, or be more loyal, than those other 70%, that an opposing view network could financially exist? Sorry, I only took Macro 101.

stbalbach: Good point--but I tend to be more trustworthy of indviduals (yes, I know, Metafilter could be full of corporatations planting info), because I see how unethically and irresponsibly corporations act. Their end-all purpose is to make money, they have no conscience. With people, I figure at least, oh, 90% have one. The 8,000 captured prisoners weren't, a British Iraqi report is plagiarized... I think the Net is full of really intelligent, well-informed people from all different areas (plus some idiots too). But I think if you get a quality site (like Metafilter), you can have some faith in its accuracy and quality.

eyeballkid:But it seems like people are taking it to the point of deciding whether a story might sell, and then deciding whether it's important enough to print. Major protests going on that are ignored because they don't sell well? Talk about an uninformed democracy.
posted by gramcracker at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2003

I still need to do the "rating" system, but other than that the test version is up and working. Certainly not polished, but no sense building it if it sits unused.

I'm spending all my programming time these days working on my other site, but if people clamor for new features on the news site, I'll be happy to build them.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2003

I find it interesting that so many distrust big media yet trust the internet

I don't trust "the internet". I trust various sources, whose information I can reach through the internet, to varying degrees. Actually, I don't even trust the individual sources that much. I read a lot of information from a lot of different sites, and the better a statement fits into a coherent overall picture the more likely I think it is that the statement is true. It's no different than anything else. That the information is being transmitted over TCP/IP changes nothing.

%99 of the documents I see being posted on MeFi in support of pro and anti war come from unknown sources. They look real, but how do we know?

What does that mean? The domain name is right there in the URL, therefore you know what the source is. If you want to find out more, chop off the end of the URL and look around the web site. You're practically certain to find out who's running the site and what they're trying to accomplish. Poke around at some of their other stories and you'll soon discover what their angle is.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:56 PM on March 28, 2003

Errr..... I was speaking about the MoJo project there. Sorry.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2003

What the hell happened to this? Are we gonna do it or not? Are Matt and/or Rusty going to help or not?

Rusty and I spent the other day talking about a new project that we can use as a blueprint and experiment to test out the MoJo concept. Expect to hear more about it this summer (it's a long term project, set to kick off this Fall).
posted by mathowie at 12:57 PM on March 28, 2003

hmmm...I find this quote from the first link telling.

"The sense is, if we give too much play to people against the war, it will hurt in the war effort and the people fighting it."
-Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a journal for the radio talk business.

From the tone of his statement, Michael seems to think that alternative viewpoints would definately change people's opinions about the war. The majority might shift in favor of the 30% who already oppose the war. That sure would "hurt the war effort" come election time.

Reporting only the popular viewpoint can be amorally explained away as good business sense because it gets the eyeballs, but it doesn't make the agenda reported as truth correct, or in the public's best interest.

The media has the power to shape majority opinion as it fits the media owners' best interests. With fewer and fewer media owners, fewer and fewer peoples' interests are being served by majority opinion.
posted by wrench at 1:06 PM on March 28, 2003

Well put, wrench.
posted by gramcracker at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2003

Professional accountability in Big Media? What about Exhibit C (above)?
posted by Phatbank at 1:21 PM on March 28, 2003

Of course we need independent media. And we can build them. K5 was on the right track when they started collecting money for their "Collaborative Media Foundation" -- 35K$ in just a few days. Understandably, people have become a bit disillusioned because not much seems to have happened since then. However, I do not believe we need new projects -- we need to use the existing ones correctly. One thing people fail to realize is that good reporting costs money. K5 provides a way to publish well-written, well-researched, balanced stories, but without funding, nobody is going to write them. (K5 also has the "geek" factor going against it. A site whose name most people cannot pronounce has a problem..) The more people get the feeling that they directly receive something in return for their funding, the more likely they are to contribute.

So you need to apply the gift economy principles not just to the problem of keeping websites up and running or to fund their founders, but also to fund actual authors. K5 could do this by adding a "Proposal Queue" to the existing article queue where authors could make proposals for articles to be written and set the price. Readers vote on whether the article should be written or not. When the article is written, it goes into the regular article queue, where people vote on it as usual. If people vote it up, the author gets paid -- otherwise he doesn't and the story is hidden. The money is either drawn from a pre-collected pool, or collected on demand.

This could be done on top of the existing K5 infrastructure. MetaFilter is more blurb- than news-oriented, so I don't know if a similar process of article funding would make sense here.

The path is outlined before us. It just takes someone with skill, time, motivation and dedication to create these new, user-funded media. None of these factors should be underestimated.
posted by Eloquence at 1:27 PM on March 28, 2003

Courts rules the media have no obligation to tell the truth.

gramcracker, did you bother to read the thread that his article was link from? Or even the article you linked to? Because if you did you would know that the statement you made was untruthful; the court did not make any such holding. In fact, I don't think the court ever even reached such an issue.
posted by Bag Man at 1:54 PM on March 28, 2003

Matt, thanks for answering my question - which now, in italics, looks more table-pounding than I meant it. The reason for it is that I felt we were operating in a nether world, not sure if all the stuff we were planning and obsessing over would be replaced by something bigger and/or better that you two might come up with, and I think that led to a sharp falling-off of dialogue/contributions on Adrian's discussion site. I have no problem waiting and seeing, I just wanted (and hopefully I'm not alone) some idea as to what the outlook was.

A site whose name most people cannot pronounce has a problem.

kurofivehin. what's the prob?
posted by soyjoy at 1:55 PM on March 28, 2003

fact checker, aka, something not currently used by corporate media

Not that facts = truth. I heard a lot about democratization of media at the World Social Forum this year, where I worked on Project Ciranda, a copyleft information exchange. There's been little action coming out of that discussion, however: witness the flop of the Global Media Watch, to have been organized by the Monde Diplomatique out of Paris, along with FAIR. The debate on emergent democracy highlights one of the problems inherent in a anarchosyndicalist model for media, powered by social software: the politics of popularity, where hits = sales and social consensus is driven by market mechanisms. The dominance of media and blogging by the English language is an issue as well.
posted by hairyeyeball at 2:00 PM on March 28, 2003

Much of whats on the Internet is presented as journalism when its really op-ed. I have a degree in History and we couldn't write a sentence without a footnote to supporting source documents. That's the level of accountability that exists in some mainstream press. It costs a lot of money. If there was a way to "opensource" that process it would be interesting. In a way blog discussions do that but it's very unorganized.
posted by stbalbach at 2:10 PM on March 28, 2003

When was the last time anyone in this thread wrote a letter to the editor of your local paper complaining about (or complimenting) their coverage? Editors, for the most part, are professional journalists who would *love* to have ammunition to use in their battles with the financial types. Why not give them some?

As for sources on the web.... 90% of the "coverage" I see on the web simply links to someone in Big Media, and therefore has all the same biases that Big Media does. Much of the "independent" web reporting is done by advocacy organizations for one point of view or another. Useful sometimes, but hardly what I'd call unbiased. Just because someone agrees with you, that doesn't mean they're right.

The best way I've found to get the maximum story with minimum bias is by reading English-language media from other countries. For the Iraq war, the BBC is good, but not perfect, especially since there are British combatants in the current war. I've also been impressed with News24, based in South Africa, though their site tends to be very slow. And of course there's Google News, which does a great job of hunting down coverage from all over the place.
posted by kewms at 2:12 PM on March 28, 2003

Exhibit (A) quotes an actavist, who, suprise!, doesn't think that his protests get enough coverage. Have you ever heard of one who thinks that his/her efforts get enuff publicity? Only one actual media person is quoted - a news-only radio station manager. That's not really very much evidence of censure, epecially when you remember that the target audience of that format is 50 year old plus white males - the people least likley people to care about protests.

Exhibit (B) - gramcracker, did you even read it? Krugman accuses Cumulus Media of banning the Dixie Chicks, not Clear Channel.

Exhibit (C) - no, that's not what the court ruled. The court did not speak to that matter at all - you really have to work yourself into a frenzy to think that very boring ruling on an obscure legal technicality in a wrongful discharge suite means that it's OK for the media to lie. But is a lie to state what the linked article does as its headline. But it's OK to lie about bad people like FOX, isn't it?

Arround here it sure sounds that some folks feel that just becasue every voice in the media isn't confirming their beliefs and prejudices 24/7 then they must be oppressed.

This thread scares me, because with just a few references to the 'jewish media conspiracy' it would be at home on the worst right wing nut site.

You know, it's just possible that the price of spewing anger and venom without a single visible positive element on your agenda will make you unpopular, even if you do oppose the war. That's not the media's fault.
posted by Jos Bleau at 2:14 PM on March 28, 2003

Doesn't the fact that the Washington post even ran this story indicate that a holistic picture of what is going on and how it is being told.

Because the "truth" is such an allusive concept, and is rarely fully understood at the time of publishing the goal of journalism should and is not to repot the "truth." Rather, the goal should be to report facts in holistic manor in the proper context, the "truth" should follow (or least it would in a perfect world).

While some criticism is fair, on a whole the media in both the UK and the US have been pretty good. However, I think most here want the media to have bias for their side and because the media is not bias against the war they are complaining.

My bias: I am former/kind of current amateur journalist who feels that media gets slammed a bit too hard around here, especially because I don't think most people around have ever worked in journalism, actually know any journalists, understand the pressures media face, nor are privy to the strict code of ethics that journalists are held too.

P.S. blogging is not journalism.

On preview: What Jos Bleau.
posted by Bag Man at 2:36 PM on March 28, 2003

However, I think most here want the media to have bias for their side and because the media is not bias against the war they are complaining.

Shoud be: However, I think most people here want the media to have a bias for their side and because the media is not biased against the war they are complaining.
posted by Bag Man at 2:38 PM on March 28, 2003

Yikes. Sorry Bag Man. No, I didn't read the Metafilter thread this article was linked to; I didn't even know it existed. Sorry for my ignorance of the Metafilter realm as well as legal naivete. So maybe the Fox story isn't the best example. How about the Nike one?

I think the issue of Big Media controlling what we see, learn, and think is still an important one. Conrad Black owns half the daily newspapers in Canada, and he's used them to try to badmouth their health insurance system.

With spin, or framing, or whatever you want to call it, the media have the power to vastly alter public opinion. And when the very few can shape public opinion of the very many for the very few's benefit (especially in the US, where education and being informed is less-valued), people will be taken advantage of with what they think is in their best interest. That's the scariest part for me. People that only get news from CNN can come away with a totally skewed perspective on an issue, but they've been led to believe that their opinion is based in solid fact, when in reality, it's littered with falsity.

Jos Bleau: A also quotes McVay media heavily, a radio consulting firm. There's what, 2 sentences from the activist? That doesn't discount the story.

B: You're right, it's Cumulus, not Clear Channel. Clear Channel was organizing the pro-war--I mean, Rally for American demonstrations. Since Cumulus and Clear Channel are so different, I guess my point there doesn't count, either.

Do you really thing the conglomerates are totally objective, and just don't run stories because they're not interesting to the public in general?

Also, I haven't seen any anger or venom spewed--on this page, or at any of the anti-war rallies I've been to. Was there any reason you added that last bit?
posted by gramcracker at 2:41 PM on March 28, 2003

Can the Democrats please find somebody better equipped to run against Bush than Rev. Al Sharpton? Please? Pretty Please?

Assuming that the GOP is willing to go allow us to carry through with another election....
posted by zaelic at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2003

gramcracker, overall you make some good points, but your absolutist statements do not ring true and your whole argument whiffs of "I'm not getting my way so I'll pissed."

People that only get news from CNN can come away with a totally skewed perspective on an issue

Example please? Other than Fox, all of the mainstream media outlets have done a pretty job of qualifying their stories and even broadcasting tidbits (including casualties numbers) from Iraq officials.

gramcracker, you make good points, but I think your bias is getting in the way.
posted by Bag Man at 3:05 PM on March 28, 2003

"You're right, it's Cumulus, not Clear Channel. Clear Channel was organizing the pro-war--I mean, Rally for American demonstrations. Since Cumulus and Clear Channel are so different, I guess my point there doesn't count, either."

Yes, that's exactly correct - if you use sources and citations that don't support your argument, then they don't count towards supporting your argument.

I don't have any warm feelings towards corporations or the media, but there is a stunning variety of media out there. My local NPR station spends over an hour a day talking to anti-war activists, and allows them to submit long monologues for broadcast as well. It supports gay/lesbian/bi/trans oriented programs as well. There's also gazillions of college and ethnic oriented stations. There's no shortage of non-corporate approved media voices on the radio.

The same goes for print media. There's no shortage of viewpoints there.

The biggest problem is in broadcast news, where there is a bottleneck of diversity. But cable and satellites do a lot to open that up.

Having watched local antiwar protests in person, and national ones on C-SPAN, and reading many of the FPPs around MeFi, all I can do is repeat what I said - how can you expect venomous, anger filled screeds utterly devoid of any positive reference or agenda to be popular with a mass audience?

Unpopular doesn't means uncovered, it just means unpopular.
posted by Jos Bleau at 3:44 PM on March 28, 2003

I wasn't going to come back in here, but Jos and Bag, your ganging up on gramcracker has to be addressed. If you want some examples of the "skewed perspective" people might have gotten on an issue, try checking out these 15 stories, all of which were reported on CNN (and others) with a straight face in the past week, all of which were basically false, and almost all of which the average American still believes to be true because the "corrections" don't get equivalent play - by design.

Secondly, stop jumping up and down about the Fox decision and varying interpretations of the linked story. Maybe the headline overstated the case and maybe it didn't, but unless you have something to disprove this passage - "In its six-page written decision, the Court of Appeals held that the Federal Communications Commission position against news distortion is only a 'policy,' not a promulgated law, rule, or regulation" - gram had every reason to characterize it as such.

Additionally, though it's not exactly the same medium, this story that appeared yesterday, dealing with, AHEM, Clear Channel billboards spewing utter disinformation with the headline "FACT" at the top, quotes a first-amendment attorney as saying "these people are totally free to say things that are false."

As for this - "There's no shortage of non-corporate approved media voices on the radio" - I can only say, you must be high. That's the most ludicrous thing I've heard in a week of ludicrous utterances.
posted by soyjoy at 8:14 PM on March 28, 2003

try checking out these 15 stories, all of which were reported on CNN (and others) with a straight face in the past week

Well, responsible news organizations will attribute anything they haven't already confirmed -- such as "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that Iraqi command and control was decapitated", or "Iraqi Minister of Information says that Iraq has shot down a US aircraft", or even "a highly placed US government source says that coalition forces have found chemical weapons in Iraq."

I believe it is CNN's policy to attribute anything not independently confirmed or witnessed by CNN reporters. I've also heard such attributions on ABC, CBS, and MSNBC. I've read them in tne New York Times and Washington Post, among others. This is journalism 101 stuff here...and I think the problem isn't as much that the press is reporting something "as fact" than it is the press misrepresenting a potentially explosive allegation and giving it greater stature than it warrants before it's fully checked out.
posted by Vidiot at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2003

how can you expect venomous, anger filled screeds utterly devoid of any positive reference or agenda to be popular with a mass audience?

Wait, asking for peace is now considered venemous and anger-filled, and starting invasions that extract a huge human toll equals promoting a positive agenda?

Oh, I get it: BagMan asked for an example of too much bad TV skewering perspective, and JB obliged.
posted by muckster at 9:40 PM on March 28, 2003

Launching soon... the media reform network, making it easier to get involved than ever.
posted by drywall at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2003

Why are anti-war protests taking on a seemingly destructive tone? Because the people protesting have grown increasingly desperate. The only place their views are given significant air time in the US Media is the Daily Show.

It's a classic example of a minority group lashing out defensively. As you can tell by the comments on this thread, many "leftists" feel marginalized because the mass media-influenced majority refuse to give their views serious consideration. In such a situation, the minority often feels that the only choice left is violence.

So, Jos, your reason for why the media should ignore protesters is caused by the media ignoring the concerns of those protesting.
posted by wrench at 11:57 AM on March 30, 2003

wrench, I follow your reasoning, and agree about mainstream marginalization -- but I don't follow your premise. Do you have examples of protests taking on a destructive tone? Has the peace movement turned to violence? I don't see any indication of that.
posted by muckster at 12:04 PM on March 30, 2003

Will the web be the only place left to cover "unpopular" stories?

You mean, is there now a place called the Web that allows "unpopular" stories to be covered properly for the first time ever?

Why, yes. Yes there is.
posted by kindall at 12:26 PM on March 30, 2003

So the Web is covering unpopular stories that were first reported in the Washington Post and New York Times?
posted by Vidiot at 8:00 PM on March 30, 2003


I don't necessarily think the protests have taken on a violent tone, unless you count pro-war counter protesters. I was just paraphrasing jos's criticism that the mass media was ignoring anti-war protests because of the protesters' "spewing anger and venom without a single visible positive element." anger and venom are certainly destructive elements, no?
posted by wrench at 4:25 PM on March 31, 2003

Sure. I just don't think Jo is right about that. There's certainly outrage among the protesters, but I believe the real destructive elements aren't massing in the streets of New York but in the deserts of Iraq. It takes some serious Orwellian mindbending to make the peace protesters into aggressors. I see what you're saying, and you used "seemingly," but I still think you were ceding too much ground.

They have MOAB, we got the Glamericans.
posted by muckster at 5:05 PM on March 31, 2003

« Older Battlefield Confusion   |   2MASS Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments