Twofish's Blog

March 30, 2008

Media relations

Filed under: china, journalism, taiwan — twofish @ 8:11 am

It’s interesting that no one ever complains that the press is biased for them.

What happens is that for the most part, the media is looking for a “good story.”  A good story has drama, it has good versus evil.  Also people who go into journalism are usually “we want to help the world” type of people.  There are certain groups that naturally fit into the “good” category and certain groups that naturally fit into the “evil” category.  Suppose you have a conflict between an 80-year old widow and a $100 billion multinational corporation?  Which party is going to get more sympathy.

The jarring thing comes when a group that you are sympathetic to becomes part of the “evil” category, and that’s when you end up with charges of “media bias.”  And it is true that the media is biased.  It’s biased toward simple, interesting stories, that have drama and human interest, that ultimately gets the target readers to read.  Newspapers are designed to cover “events” and not “processes.”  For it to get into a newspaper, something has to happen.  “Today was just like yesterday, and everything is fine” is not an interesting story.

One thing that is the case with articles is that for the most part, they tell the reader things that don’t make the reader feel too uncomfortable, and that do not challenge the reader’s fundamental beliefs in any serious way.  “Your religion is non-sense” is something that you are unlikely to read in any newspaper.  “Their religion is non-sense” is something that you find implied all of the time.

The thing that I’ve found is that it is a bad idea to try to find the mythical “unbiased source” and try instead to find lots and lots different viewpoints.  The other thing that I’ve found to be useful is trying to learn something about situations which I have no particular emotional attachment to.  I’m never going to be unemotional about Tibet or Taiwan, but I think I’ve learned more about the the dynamics of nationalism by studying Hungary and Syria.

Why Hungary and Syria?  It’s because I *don’t* have any connection with Hungary and Syria.  So when the media says something about Hungary, I can get some idea of what it looks and feels like to a Hungarian when I say something about Tibet.

The very uncomfortable feeling that you get when you look at things from someone else’s viewpoint is that maybe “they” have a good point, and that “they” are nasty, evil, stupid people.  This is uncomfortable because it brings up the possibility that maybe you are the nasty, evil, stupid person, and this is uncomfortable.  And to get readers, newspapers don’t want to make the reader feel uncomfortable.

But you learning things is an uncomfortable process.  Thinking is hard.  However, one thing that I’ve learned is that the side that “wins” in the end is usually the side that is willing to be made a little uncomfortable.

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