Friday, September 23, 2011

We Are The Media

June 25, 2009.  Headline:  Michael Jackson is dead!  Farrah Fawcett is dead!  Source:  Twitter, Facebook, dead celebrity websites.

March 11, 2011.  Headline:  earthquake rocks Japan.  Tsunami lifts civilization off its foundations and sweeps it away, effortlessly.  Twitter.  Facebook.  YouTube.

May 2, 2011.  Headline:  Osama bin Laden shot dead by U.S. Troops.  Source:  Twitter.  Facebook. 

September 11, 2001.  Headline:  WTC rocked, destroyed, by terrorist, killing hundreds, changing the world.  Source:  radio, television media outlets, word of mouth.

In 10 short years, media has metamorphosed entirely from a strictly corporation-run system of networks of print, radio and television media, to this:  100% privatized media content.

Granted, you still have to pay big corporations in order to broadcast your opinions; and in some countries, your own publicized opinion, even on Facebook, can get you imprisoned, or even killed.

The point is, whether we realize it, believe it or do something about it, anyone with access to the internet can change the news.

We can complain about big Right Wing media corporations and laugh (or cry) about their flagrant disregard for facts or open dialogue.  We can complain about how "the media" vilifies good people, or floods us with inanities about celebrity weight gain or loss (including baby bumps, food bumps, silicon bumps, affairs and divorces).  Or, as Jon Stewart does so well...we could lambaste Glenn Beck.

But what baffles me is that few seem to realize just how much power we have in our hands, and how much responsibility.

1.  Power.  We can broadcast our own beliefs faster than ever, more visually than ever.

We can propagate our political beliefs and rally support for our cause through online petitions.  We can join chat groups where people share our beliefs; we can comment on nearly any news or pseudo-news online journal and "share" (read "beat each other about the head with") our opinions without ever having to justify ourselves with facts.  I don't have to post any links.  Go anywhere.  Read any article.  Watch any link in YouTube.  You'll see what I mean.

We can inform.  We can spread hate.

We can plead for help. And we can admire the human spirit.

Courtesy First

And we can disseminate news independently of major broadcasting corporations.

Did you know that as of today, Wall Street has been occupied by a 7-day (and counting) protest - a total occupation of Wall Street?

I did.  Someone on Facebook posted pictures.  I checked it out.  She's right - there are the pictures, there are private news outlets telling us about it.  Not a word in the "recognized" media outlets.  Do a search using the following words:  News Wall Street Occupied.  Take a look at the site addresses and see if you can spot any major national news outlet that's joining in on the fray.

Michael Moore knows.  He's there.  I have no doubt he'll make a rousing comment about how "the media" is conspicuous by its absence.

Look at the power we have.  Someone I have never met on Facebook posted a series of pictures and mentioned that mainstream media wasn't covering it.  I say, "Friend, we are mainstream media; the message has gotten out."

And we don't even need to write anything.

We can spread paranoia.

Or we can challenge each other's beliefs. 

We can uplift.


We can remember.

Courtesy Great Buildings . com

We can always remember.

2.   Reach.  More than ever, we can reach out to the entire world, simply by leaving a message on some obscure site like this one.  Don't believe me?  I have a regular reader in Germany that I've never met; just this week, I've had visitors from the UK, Australia, France, China, Russia and Latvia.  I mean, how'd they even find me?  The point is, there is now a connection made between me, here in my basement apartment in Montreal, and someone out there, on the far side of the planet.

I wish it went both ways.  I wish I could see more of what's really happening in China - I mean really.  How do people live?  I don't want to know just what their state-run media says is happening in China; I want to know what's happening in the lives of a healthy cross-section of China.

Done secretly and done well, we can know.

The question is, does anyone want to try and find out?  Or are we satisfied with what drivel we get every day?

3.  The News is Free.  

There used to be a time when the public upheld a belief in journalistic ethics; a promise by major media corporations to seek the facts and publish the truth no one wanted to hear.  Papers were accountable to a publisher and editor; publishers and editors were/are accountable to their stockholders, their advertisers and their readers.

That promise no longer applies.  The news is free - the news is no longer accountable to an editor or a publisher; anyone - whether they've been there or not - can write an article and call it "The News."  So long as we don't commit libel against anyone, our freedom of expression is protected (in North America, especially) by law.  We may get comments and insults from the readers, but they're pretty powerless in forcing us to change the content of our online publication.  We are accountable to no one.

And the news is free in terms of cost.  I'm paying for my internet; you're probably paying for yours.  But you are not paying to read what I'm telling you now.  I make no profit, doing what I do right now.

On the flip side, major media outlets are chained to monetary gain.  The bigger the headline and the louder the fearmonger, the more money large media corporations earn.  News sells. But it doesn't have to.  Not anymore. 

4.  We are the readership.  

Which are you more aware of?  That on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, Facebook made a major change to its news feed layout, and that so many people complained that it hit the news?   Or that September 21 was supposed to be the re-scheduled rapture?  Or did you know that, on the day most of us were complaining about Facebook feeds, two US hikers were released on bail after a two-year ordeal in Iran, after having been falsely accused of spying in 2009?

Your answer entirely depends on what your interests are.  Sounds stupidly simple, I know, but follow my argument for a moment.

There are two principle forces in the free marketplace: supply and demand.

The media supplies us all the drek we may complain about - the tabloids, the rumours, the fearmongering, the political machinations, the blind eyes and the one-sided arguments.

But we demand it.  The more we demand, the more media will supply.

Simply put:  if we stopped buying it, they would stop supplying it.  If we stopped watching it, advertisers would lose their power over our spending money, and the advertisers will invest in something else.

No one liked the Edsel.  So Ford stopped making them.  No one makes a product for long that no one's going to buy because it's expensive, and anything that does not generate a profit is counter to the ideals of capitalism.

Some people like Glenn Beck.  It doesn't matter who, or why, or what their level of education is, or what colour is their skin, or how thick is their wallet.  It doesn't matter.  The point is, there are enough people interested in Far Right media to represent a large base of consumers - not extremists, not bigots, not ultra-conservative Christians - consumers.  People who are exposed often enough to advertisements that go out and buy the products that sponsor the show.

Networks don't care what you believe; they care about what you buy.  If you're buying, you must want more of it.  If ratings are up, advertisers are happy and networks are happy.  If ratings went down, then advertisers would back away, and networks will try something else.

We are the readership.  We are the viewership.  If it wasn't for us, the media that we love and hate today would go away, because the media is us.  

We can control the media.

Because we are the media.

5.  We, as readers, have a greater responsibility than ever.  Independent online journalists, be they professional, amateur or otherwise, are not held accountable to anyone.  So long as they aren't criminal in nature, and so long as they pay their website fees, anyone can post anything that they want.  Writers do not share the same responsibilities as readers.  And they never have.

Savvy indy journalists can make any website look like a genuine media outlet.  Take that link I'd posted earlier, the one about the occupation of Wall Street.  Digital Journal has advertising on it, it has a great, professional-looking layout, it has sections like any other news website - it's great!

How do you know anything in that website is genuine?  How can you tell if someone just made it all up? 

I'm not saying it's fake; I'm challenging your perception of what you see online.

Since the advent of yellow journalism in the late 1800s, the line between fact and profitable opinion has blurred.  Now that anyone with a good eye for programming and webdesign can pose as a major media outlet, we are forced into doubt.  We must be doubtful.  We should always have been doubtful, because smart people test everything.

And now we see willful blindness on the part of the major media outlets.  Something's happening in Wall Street.  We know the Dow took another hit this week, and major news networks are covering why not step outside and comment on the people who have been protesting?  Where's the media presence that we actually pay for?  Do they have something to hide?  Is there something they don't want us to know?

If Big News Inc. did say something, would it be a comment on social disruption, or social revolution?  Or would they simply walk up to the protesters and report back on what the protesters have to say?  Will they give us opinion or fact?  My money is on opinion, because true journalism isn't sensational enough to sell.

Major news outlets, independent news outlets - whatever it is, take nothing for face value, and always assume there's more to the story than what is presented.

Check for references and quotations; see if you can substantiate what is being said by cross-referencing against another source.  

When watching news footage, doubt anything that has been cut off mid-sentence.  There's a big difference between "I believe cutting taxes for corporations is good - " and "I believe cutting taxes for corporations is good only for 1% of the population."  Believe nothing that is taken out of context.  Suffer through long quotations, if that's what it takes to get the full truth.

Check bylines.  There are still reputable news outlets out there.  When reading any newspaper, you may find that a lot of the news comes from Reuters.  Be careful here:  a lot of the credit will go back to Reuters, but if you read the original article and compare it against what has been "edited" in your newspaper, you'll be amazed at how subtle - and how powerful - those edits can be.

Seek a balanced argument.  Good journalism encourages you to come up with your own opinions, instead of feeding you what they think you want to hear.

Conclusion.  I can't tell you to boycott networks or the products that sponsor them.  I believe in freedom of expression - even when I fiercely disagree with what's being said.  I would rather disassemble your argument with logic and proof than drown you out with my own ignorance and censorship.  Besides, the more I say "Don't listen to that guy, he's a bigot!" the more you're going to be tempted to go see what was so shocking.

And I can't change the world.  If I make a significant and lasting impact on only two people in this world, I'll be over the moon.

But I can encourage you to make use of what you have at hand:  a remote control, the internet, and an unrelenting desire to seek the truth.

Now, I could go on forever about media, its impact on our lives, and our lives in the media.  But I don't have to.  Marshall McLuhan said it for us thirty years before the commercialization of the internet.

I leave you with a prophetic blast from the past.


  1. Hey Pat, do me a favour and head over to my blog...specifically,

  2. What a fantastic blog post! I agree with you on so many points, but I'm not sure we have as much power as you portray. This country lives and dies by the word Freedom, and yet what that seems to mean to many is that we are only free to believe (or not) what they tell us. If I understand you believe that each person is capable of making and spreading whatever news and truth they want. Truth is the word that leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it means something different to so many. Take religion, politics, world events...basically all aspects of our lives are supposed to have an ultimate truth that we are to uncover in order to find a belief and meaning, and yet, we are bombarded with thousands of "truths" each day.

    Got to say, I loved your John Stewart rant and was fascinated by the Marshall McLuhan clip. He pegged it even then that we have become a tribal man who is moving out of a print culture to an explosion of media madness. If we have the power to change things by understanding the concept of supply and demand...can we please stop clamoring for reality shows!

    Thank you for a wonderful, thought-provoking read. This is my first time here. Tobin Elliott sent me your direction and I'm so glad he did.

  3. Thanks for your wonderful comments, Annie! I will agree - unfortunately some people have a skewed view of "truth." But, Truth (Reality) exists in spite of us; so long as humans are involved, Truth will always be polluted by perspective. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to test everything, and believe nothing blindly.