6 February 2008
Nick Davies, in Flat Earth News, claims
that journalists' reliance on packaged PR (government or corporate)
is due to the lack of time journalists have available for investigative
work. This, in turn, is due to downsized staff combined with
upsized demand for space-filling content. Every story requires
a "frame", and the PR industry knows how to frame
a story so it's media-ready – a product to fit the market.
Readers of Lakoff, Chomsky, McLuhan, Postman, etc, know that
this doesn't tell the whole story. But it does provide a starting
point for a useful type of "institutional analysis".
It may even lead to "deep" insights into the economic
framing of "efficiency" and its effects on emerging
"independent" media (more on this in a future article).
Davies' book also seems to offer a wealth of details –
the essential "raw data", without which any "media
analysis" would be too abstract.
Questioning the status quo has always required time. That's
why I find publications such as the Idler more subversive
than most "radical" political movements – and
it's why I find Paul Lafargue (author of The Right to be
Lazy) more interesting than his father-in-law, Karl Marx.
Changing your thinking requires time away from economic demands
of work and "productivity". Chomsky pointed out that
you can't undermine conventional pieties in a 15-second soundbite
– you need more time. But you need more time, also –
much more – to arrive at a state in which you are capable
of undermining your own thinking. And what else do we require
from journalists – mainstream or "independent"
– with whom we fundamentally disagree?
We develop semantic reflexes at an age when we're unequipped
for intellectual self-defense. We form semantic grids ("worldviews"),
metaphorical representations of "reality" based on
social programming ("education", etc). These require
much time and effort to "undo", even assuming we have
the inclination to undo them. Journalists inhabit a concentrated
info-world in which the Great Work of undoing and reframing
has serious consequences – particularly if "success"
(conventional career development) correlates with the "right"
The unfortunate punchline is that non-career ("independent")
journalists, bloggers, etc, are affected by the same economics
of time – unless they're financially independent (eg well-off).
This probably explains, in part, the complete lack of originality
in most "independent" media, despite its freedom from
corporate ownership. Copy-n-pasted "news" and recycled
ideas (predominantly sub-Chomskyan) seem to be the rule –
and I say this as someone who still sees the utopian promise
of the internet.
In other words, the "churnalism" which Davies writes
about ("churning" out copy on a "news" production
line) is characteristic of both "mainstream" and much
"independent" media. Behind it is a "deeper"
set of constructs shared by both – the Western "economic"
framing, common to both Marx and Adam Smith; the cognitive underpinning
which unites two opposing sides in their encoding of survival-anxieties.