The inherent nature of the media

The media, when viewed simply as message gatekeepers, have no inherent qualities that can be judged good or bad; in a perfect world, they would be nearly transparent. But they aren’t, in actuality, freestanding machines that passively deliver content to consumers because they themselves are driven by passionate, emotive human beings. Today the same individuals that deliver news—factually or otherwise—often take on multiple roles: especially across Internet channels, the gatekeepers of information can also be the creators of it.

The media have an incredible responsibility to deliver material on time and in an engaging manner, but is the content always presented fairly? The idea that information can be disseminated in an absolutely impartial and unbiased way is laughable to many, but it’s a worthy notion even if it’s held aloft by imperfect people. The tagline of FOX News is “Fair & Balanced,” but many people, conservative or otherwise, would argue that the coverage is anything but. At the same time, however, the relatively new cable channel created a market that appeals to a large segment of viewers who claim that other sources—such as CNN—deliver news with no less (but politically different) spin. In this case, it’s the human element rather than the mechanism itself that imbues the media with the ability to distort. It can certainly be a negative quality when flawed people seek to subtly change the meaning of the message, but is it really an inherent quality?

A certain power lies with the ability to broadcast content as fact, and in the simplistic view of the media as sluice gates through which information is channeled downstream to consumers, that power is a natural force that cannot be abused. Again, however, the real world is filled with real people who sometimes do make mistakes. The drama surrounding CBS News’ loss of Mary Mapes and Dan Rather in separate episodes a while back raised both suspicion of and sympathy for the players involved, as well as the question of whether the media are always capable of delivering the truth. It’s helpful to remember, however, that content providers such as CBS News are largely self-regulating; credibility is key to the mission of every good news agency. While profitability is often of secondary importance, it’s still a critical piece of the package, and one that demands that same credibility from serious news sources. The same doesn’t necessarily apply to non-professional channels such as those used by bloggers on the World Wide Web; as individuals who have the right to speak their minds about any topic (researched or not), they are free to publish sentiments that may or may not fairly represent the truth. In most cases, however, the opinions of amateur bloggers are accepted for what they are: merely opinions. The media are self-balancing in such a way that public sentiment, as expressed through new channels of communication, is kept separate from the commentaries and news reports of professional agencies. In neither case should faulty information automatically be considered a blight on the media; the mechanism by which content can be shared with the world is by its very nature a flexible one, and it’s only through the power of human drive and ingenuity that it can become a positive or negative force.

In short, the media are what we make of them.

And also, I can write whatever I want here.

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