[mediawatch] The Power of the Disconnect

(warning: this will be a long train of thought about media and politics and stuff. there won’t be a joke at the end. skip it if this stuff bores you.)
So one of the things I got out of the Palestine event was another angle on the same issue I’ve been messing with for years: the role of the popular media in perpetuating injustice.
I think now, more than ever, people are aware that the mediated presentations of political content can be deceptive. Everyone knows that you can’t trust the media – or at least, everyone says they know. Unfortunately, it continues to be clear that most people aren’t nearly as good as they claim to be at identifying and managing media slant.
There are dozens of ways in which the workings of big media obscure issues, and most of those ways are seized upon and actively exploited by the savvy PR people who are an essential part of the entourage of anyone in the public eye. I’m not going to go into those right now. There’s plenty of other places to read stuff like that.
What we as a society need, then, is a way to take this notion of media-awareness and make it an actuality. And a key tool in that mission is the disconnect.
Everyone has experienced this at some point. Something you know about or care about has turned up in the newspaper or on TV, and you’ve watched/read the coverage and been taken aback by it. Maybe it angered you; more likely it just made you realise how far their portrayal was from your experience.
That is the disconnect.
The disconnect is powerful. Most of us don’t encounter personally-important things in media coverage often enough to experience the disconnect. But I suspect that if someone was to have enough disconnects, in short enough timespan, they would start to identify the patterns behind the disconnects. Their claims of media-awareness would become actual instead of notional.
Consider the marketing goal of imparting the value of a brand or a product through impressions. If I remember right, something like seven impressions (advertisements, people mentioning it, seeing it on display) are needed to convince someone to buy a product they didn’t start out looking for.
So there’s a target for us: as many people as possible, seven disconnects in a year.
Why do we want to do this? Because society is manipulated. We are all caught up in an echo chamber that repeats its truisms in our ears over and over, and the most dangerous thing isn’t that we’ll believe the truisms, but that we’ll forget there’s a lot of other important things that aren’t even being talked about.
The disconnect is when you realise that media coverage is *missing the important point*. No, let me rephrase. The disconnect is when you realise that media coverage is *answering the unimportant question and ignoring the important one*.
How to encourage disconnects?
That’s tricky. My first idea was a regular article in a mag like New Zealand’s Listener, a left-leaning current affairs & TV listings journal that’s utterly part of the mainstream and seems quite unique in the western world – I’ve certainly never encountered anything elsee like it. If they spent one page a week tracking media coverage explicitly – quoting articles, identifying issues, watching the process of media spon – if this was delivered in an attractive visual package, bringing to light the groupthink and caution and quid pro quo that hamstrings mainstream media – I think disconnects could be given on a regular basis, article after article after article.
The blogs are doing this, but it’s piecemeal and caught up in political firestorms. Worthy feature articles on all parts of the political spectrum are likewise doing it, but it’s always long after the fact and always issue-focussed. These approaches are around, if you keep your eyes open. But the problem with the current state of affairs is that the media itself is never the subject. Something needs to alert people to the media as a process and a system, not just a window.
I have other ideas about ways for this to work, but they remain as blue-sky as magically appearing an extra page into the Listener each week. And this entry is long enough for now. I’m gonna leave it there. Turn some ideas over in my head for a week or so. One immediate problem: once people have been ‘disconnected’ from the media feed – then what? What would happen to these people? The only options I can think of are to become massive info-grazers like most of the political bloggers and internet junkies, processing masses of data points from all over into an ‘average’ that hopefully bears some resemblance to what’s true or important; or focusing on one media outlet that seems to share your perspective and letting that be your filter (kiwis could do worse than idiot/savant’s No Right Turn); or just giving up. None of these options appeal to me as a general answer. Is an alternative media a prerequisite for mass-resistance to current mainstream media systems? I dunno.
I’m also wondering whether people should have state-sponsored PR support dished out to the needy public like legal aid. To even the playing field a bit. But that might just be the Friday afternoon madness.
I hope that made sense, because I’m sure as heck not proofing it first. Please comment, too, if you’ve read this far. I might be totally missing some crucial point.

4 thoughts on “[mediawatch] The Power of the Disconnect”

  1. interesting.
    a few years back i had the idea for a metafilter project, which would address these issues and replace media, but unfortunately require quite a few on to it people all over the world working lots for free.

  2. State-sponsored PR seems like it would be making the problem worse, not better. if you don’t trust the media, why on earth would you trust the state?

  3. State-sponsored PR support is a half-facetious suggestion. It’s more obvious here where tabloids can go crazy than in NZ, but there’s a disturbing tendency for the media to target any random person who might be in the news and spin at them. Any spokesperson for refugees, for example, gets shredded in the tabloids as soon as they raise their heads. (And if you’re accused of being a paedophile, heaven help you.) The government as well is adept at spinning at anyone in its way – look at the Kelly-as-Mitty slur for an (uncharacteristically inept) example.
    The idea is that PR people would do some pro bono work for such individuals and help them navigate their way through the shark pool.
    It would, of course, be impossible to implement – masses of PR people doing pro bono? ha! – but I like talking about it because it shows the power inequality at work.

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