Research Paper: Media and Conflict the Existence

Pages: 10 (3245 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Economics  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Another characteristic of American journalism is its tendency to focus on the technical, which the journalist perceives as allowing him or her to distance himself or herself from the entangling perspectives of political life. Taken together, these tendencies produce news coverage that is negative, detached and technical. Certainly each journalist's perfunctory treatment of the employment forecasts they received would be described as detached, with little analytical insight or engagement even while it may have been technically appropriate.

Journalists are also influenced not only by their organizations, but also by the cultural traditions of their organizations. These traditions include such stylistic elements as the ability to discern what is unique or interesting, validating a claim, and constructing a news story with a moral component. Journalists are aware of these traditions and others, but are less so when they must consult the standards that guide the application of these skills (Schudson, p. 13).

Consequently journalists may unwittingly operate within a cultural system that includes preconceptions about their audience that are less a reflection of reality and more a projection of their own social experience. News, as a form of culture, comprises assumptions about what is important, what makes sense, what time and place in which we experience the world, and what topics deserve serious consideration. The who, what, when, where and why of journalistic reporting are all subject to cultural presuppositions (Schudson, pp.14-15). These presuppositions affected the journalists' ability to ferret out the information that news consumers would find consequential.

There is also an element of causality in news reporting. When the media presents a news item to the public, they confer public legitimacy upon the story. In fact, they more than distribute the report, they actually amplify it; within hours of a news report it is accessible to millions on a regional, national or even international basis. This amplification has significant implications, not least of which is the certification of importance (Schudson, pp. 19-20). By repeating the inadequate unemployment data they were given, journalists amplified and made significant the low quality information they were given.

The journalist has both the obligation and the opportunity to frame the message that he or she participates in amplifying. The very act of reporting a news story conveys special significance and importance. Implicit in the notion of publishing a news item is the concept that an event is noteworthy, and that citizens, by possessing this piece of knowledge, are better empowered to be effective (Schudson, p.20).

Of course the availability of this information does not guarantee an informed public. There is even an argument to be made that the more information that journalism provides, the weaker a political society becomes. Proponents of this argument believe that the more aggressive and critical that journalism becomes, the more likely that regular consumers of news will be left with a bad taste in their mouths (Schudson, pp. 26-27).

Discussing the role of photography in news coverage of flawed unemployment forecasts invite commentary too. The articles in question were accompanied by photos of a somber Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman, President Bush and his council of economic advisors. At first glance, using these photos appears to fly in the face of photojournalistic conventions dictating photographs of the casualties of the unemployment crisis.

Photographs have been used to facilitate public responsiveness and attentiveness. They were used to great effect in the days and months following September 11, helping the public to bear witness to the traumatic events and move to a post-traumatic state of healing and public support for political and military actions that were to come. Photographs were used in a similar manner following the liberation of the concentration camps of World War II in 1945. Zelizer argues that photography serves as an essential part of journalism, as well as a tool to ease the discord caused by public trauma and to facilitate the achievement of political and military goals (Greenberg, pp. 48-49).

Public trauma occurs when large-scale catastrophes occur. While wide scale unemployment is not exactly comparable to war or terrorist attack, the potentially life-altering effects of unemployment for tens of millions of people, their families and the nation during the course of the Great Recession meet the definition of public trauma. Recovery following public trauma involves working through a process of establishing safety, engaging in remembrance then reconnecting with ordinary life. Photography serves to take individuals on the journey to post-traumatic space.

However, the images of politicians and government bureaucrats offered no such path of healing to victims of the economic downturn. Rather, the use of these photographs serve to negate the concept of trauma, in some cases offering both insult and injury to the unemployed who rightly or wrongly, recognize in these photos the faces of those who originated or augmented their misery. The images clearly demonstrate photojournalism which presumes an audience that does not include trauma victims.

Nor can it be said that the photographs encourage the public to realize political aims. Even if one were to argue that the photographs convey a vision of strength and leadership to some members of the public during a time of crisis, there are any number of polls and election results showing that a sizable number of viewers have a different reaction, suggesting that the photos just do not work for many viewers. One can only conclude that a pro-business bias inoculated the editor/photojournalist against perceiving the actual impact of their selections.

One can safely assume that these photographs were never intended to serve a purpose of bearing witness to traumatic events or moving to a post-traumatic space. Nonetheless, it is still appropriate to judge the use of these images because the journalist mischaracterized his or her audience to some greater or lesser degree. The news events that the stories intend to cover do not belong exclusively to the realm of the detached investor or consumer of business news; the trauma of unemployment is real to its victims, whether the photojournalist acknowledges that reality or not.

Much of mainstream U.S. journalism must be considered propagandistic, and the articles in question exemplify this fact. The weaknesses of professional journalism as practiced in the U.S. is reflected in distorted coverage of news events as well as in the control that a small number of powerful, profit-seeking companies exert over the major news media. There is no explicit state censorship in the U.S., because the profit motive serves the same function (McChesney, pp. 94-95).

In an effort to avoid the taint of partisanship, journalistic professionalism requires the use of official or credentialed sources as the basis for news stories. This arrangement results in reporters in turn reporting what people in power say or debate, which in turn gives the news an establishment bias. As a result, journalists who report what official sources discuss is considered professional, while the journalist who seeks to broaden the discussion or invoke an alternative perspective is by definition being unprofessional. Consequently background stories or contextual pieces that oppose or contradict official sources die an early death in the absence of amplification by an official source. McChesney argues the pervasiveness of this de facto censorship, noting that "Most journalists have so internalized this primary role as stenographers for official sources that they do not recognize it as a problem for democracy" (p. 95). In this environment, the best professional journalism occurs when there are clear and distinct debates between official sources.

Without the rigorous monitoring of a free press, the elected leadership are not accountable to the citizenry who elected them. Propaganda gets passed off as information. The electorate remain locked in the status quo with no ability to criticize the political culture in its entirety, and in the absence of such a watchdog function, the electoral system is overtaken by corruption and decay (McChesney, pp. 95-96). The widespread complicity of the financial sector in creating the credit crisis and housing bubble, major factors in creating massive unemployment offers an example of such corruption.

In such a climate, news sources engage in illegitimate practices such as the coverage of manufactured news stories. This tactic is especially popular among pseudo-journalists and PACs in the current news environment; they manufacture news stories then news outlets cover and amplify the manufactured events, thus sanitizing and legitimizing them.

The weaknesses of news coverage can be blamed on the structural context for U.S. journalism. In recent years the U.S. news media has become consolidated into the hands of a very few massive media conglomerates. There is as yet no solution to the challenge of reforming journalism to serve democracy.

Advocacy and Conclusion

Journalists who distribute propaganda instead of covering news do a disservice to the news consumer, to themselves, their profession and to the country.

Readers of news coverage that lacks independence, accountability and substance should demand more of the journalists who produce such inferior products. Given the profit-seeking behavior of news outlets, shortchanged readers should enforce their demands by imposing economic penalties on the organizations themselves… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Media and Conflict the Existence.  (2012, January 20).  Retrieved April 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/media-conflict-existence/2059242

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"Media and Conflict the Existence."  Essaytown.com.  January 20, 2012.  Accessed April 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/media-conflict-existence/2059242.