Thursday, October 7, 2010

Media is not almighty

I keep forgetting that the news is written and broadcast by people. When we talk about it in my Policy courses, the media is a big, nasty corporation – mechanic and malicious, sinewy and self-serving. All the newspapers, magazines, journalists, and broadcasters get lumped into this impersonal monolith.

But it’s not all the same. At least, that’s what I’ve been getting out of this class. The news is written by journalists – actual people who, for the most part, work to portray the news as accurately as they see it. The news is also shaped by culture and history. It’s all about context. I was surprised to learn that some sensational-looking newspapers from Serbia with large, bold headlines, lots of bright colors, and a picture of a topless woman, no less, could be considered a legitimate source of news. On the other hand, French and German newspapers contained pages of lengthy, in-depth articles with just a few, small pictures. “That’s great but do they really read all this?” Professor Burton asked, flipping through pages smeared from top to bottom with text. I also liked her note on the French television news, where breaking news slowly filters on to people’s television throughout the day supposedly because the French are in no rush to get things done or to get stories out.

Undoubtedly, the media shapes society, but I hadn’t considered how society shapes the media. As societies and cultures vary, so does the media, which we saw in the juxtaposition of European newspapers. In the same way you realize the particularities of your native culture when you come in contact with a foreign one, the characteristics of one type or nation’s style of newspaper – could you call them the values of that country’s media? – are emphasized when compared to another. Through this plurality of journalistic styles, we can better understand the news that is presented to us in a particular country.

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