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02 August 2016

The Truth About the MSM

Journalists have always had their critics. Back in the days of typewriters and carbon paper complaints would arrive in the post, often scrawled in green ink on lined Basildon Bond writing paper.

Complaints are usually from people unhappy about what has been published; or, just as often, about what has not been used. Editors have to make rapid decisions, and a big part of that gatekeeper role is to keep out free advertising and, vitally, the sort of unmoderated, opinion-heavy "press releases" turned out endlessly by those with a cause - whether that cause be political, religious, or just an obsession.

Recently I'm concerned to see a new kind of conspiracy theorist emerge online; the keyboard warrior who blames what they call "the MSM", or "mainstream media", for all the world's ills. It's a lazy slander of many hardworking journalists.

A good local newsroom will give fair exposure to groups and individuals in their community, such as those with a mission to stop a road scheme, or to protect badgers, or to promote veganism.

The problem is, they'll never give enough coverage to the zealot's pet subject to satisfy the importance they think it deserves, even though repeated stories on the same narrow topic would bore casual listeners or readers rigid.

The arrival of the internet meant your local militant flat-earther could publish infinite amounts of material online to a worldwide audience of billions. Except, strangely enough, only a handful read it, most of those his existing mates, living in the same silo.

So the idea is born, under the tin-foil hat, that "they" are stopping the message getting out. Them. The MSM.

It's a conveniently broad definition. The mainstream media in question include everything from the national press and the BBC to local papers, news websites, and radio.

I've long argued against the view that the national newspapers influence anything very much. All they do is hold up a mirror to the existing opinions and prejudices of their readers. It wasn't The Sun Wot Won It, it was Sun readers voting as they would have done anyway, with the paper conveniently on the winning side as cheerleader. If you're obsessed with health scares, house prices and Diana you'll buy the Express. The Express won't persuade you to venerate a dead princess.

The BBC has been stuck for a while in reflex apology mode. The default reaction to any form of criticism is to retract or, almost worse, hold an inquiry which somehow implies guilt upfront whatever the eventual findings of the investigation turn out to be.

The issue which has really brought the issue to the boil is the current Labour leadership contest.

Corbyn supporters routinely post pictures online of rallies which "the MSM" are not covering. Except in many cases, they are, but just not with the prominence the faithful feel their story deserves in the overall agenda. We're right back to the green ink, but now it's in the form of a Tweet or a Facebook post.

Let's nip this one in the bud before "it's the MSM" joins "the media's all about dumbing down" and "they all hack phones" as one of the lazy tropes applied to all journalists, irrespective of the facts.



3 comments:

  1. Interesting and relevant post for me and mine Richard.

    We recently made the decision to temporarily switch off from MSM after the recent various tragic events and follow up to Brexit.

    I'm not suggesting the events weren't worthy of coverage received as clearly unprecedented times and we clearly feel for the people caught up in them. (An added caveat is that we were caught up in and affected by the attacks in Paris last November and were travelling to Bavaria the day after the recent attack in Munich.)

    I saw no need to comment or blame MSM for coverage as it was merited but we just needed to get away from the coverage for a bit. We are are just getting back to watching the news again. Still pretty depressing on average.

    I just wonder how many people permanently avoid the news for that reason and or perhaps blame the media for reporting. Or are they generally happier if less informed?

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  2. Thanks for this, Phil.

    Another understandable but unfortunate trend is to blame the MSM for bringing us bad news. This is exacerbated by the breathless scramble to keep up with social media on "Breaking News". I therefore applaud the recent decision, by The Times and others, to go back to "edition times" in the digital publishing world; to publish thoughtful, considered pieces at predetermined times of day which give their journalists chance to do their job of adding context, background and analysis to the events unfolding.

    It's what we used to take for granted from journalism, and what is sorely lacking in many of the tragic scenarios which you have experienced.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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  3. Richard, I think this is spot on. And it’s something I’ve experienced first-hand at Leeds Salon meetings and other public discussions I’ve been to. When a question is put as to why a particular, favoured movement or idea is not more popular or better known, it’s always the fault of the MSM – and of course it’s “gullible” consumers - rather than anything to do with the failings of that movement or idea itself. It’s a form of conspiracy theory, which sounds radical on the surface, but is really very conservative and defeatist, providing a ready-made excuse for failure.

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