Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Distorting Mirror

I've just been on a media training course: great fun, culminating in a day in a TV studio being interviewed several times and watching the results.

One of the things that struck me was how dreadful a profession journalism is. The journalists and broadcasters running the course were drumming home two things: one is that if it isn't 'a good story', it isn't news; the other is that it must be told simply as people will not attend to anything for very long.

By 'a good story', essentially they mean it has to be conflict-ridden; and by 'simply' they mean in short words, short sentences, and a short time overall.

All of which I knew already, but hearing it in such stark terms - and working with people whose professional skill is to package information in that way and discard information which doesn't fit that model - made me reflect again on what a distorting mirror our media are.

This distortion, in favour of over-dramatising and over-simplifying, is then amplified by the media culture; it struck me anew that a particular type of person is drawn to work in the media (or possibly that working in the media results in one becoming a particular type of person); and that is typified by the BBC culture,w here they all associate so much with themselves and their types that they genuinely do not see the bias that they bring to everything: they are genuinely outraged when any one suggests that they have any bias: yet to the outside observer with a different set of prejudices, their bias is obvious, persistent and consistent.

As a father, one of the things i have worked hard at is protecting my kids from being damaged by the prevalent culture: hence counter-cultural father. A key part of my strategy has been to minimise their reliance on the mainstream media as sources of information and comment. We have no TV, we don't have a paper every day, we listen to the radio news infrequently; we do talk about news and current affairs (a bit) at home and discuss it from our perspective. We watch films rather than TV (among other reasons, films demand a longer attention span: TV's crazy pace is one of its stuctural problems!), and choose them with some care, watch them together and talk about the implications of the stories, including the moral implications and the attitudes underlying the characters and their decision.

Above all we encourage the kids to think about things themselves, to challenge received ideas and opinions, and to do so from within a framework of beliefs, opinions and attitudes which we set, rather than those who think the key attributes of reality are conflict and simplicity (and a BBC worldview)...

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