The Mainstream Media

Okay, I’m making a new rule: whenever I’m reading something online and I see the phrase “The Mainstream Media,” I’m instantly deducting 40 credibility points from the author. It’s a meaningless phrase its use indicates laziness, sloppiness, or a line of thought that was only half-formed to begin with.

Worst, it’s often a cheap debating technique, best used by con men to imply a closeness with the reader. “You know that individual or organization that you can’t stand? C’mon, you know the one I’m talking about, right? Well, hey! I can’t stand it or him or her either! Why, buying an above-ground pool from me will be like buying it from your best friend!”

But chiefly let’s stick to the problem that “the mainstream media” is a meaningless term. I write a column for a great metropolitan newspaper. I’m part of the Mainstream Media, right? But what happens when I blog here? Whoops, no. I’m a Citizen Journalist. Damn, and then I screwed it all up by appearing on CBS. No! Wait! I think I saved it by doing a podcast.

What?

Well, yes: MacBreak is sponsored by ads.

Oh, come on. At best, that makes it part of the “…am Media.”

Do you see the problem? When you say “the mainstream media” you’re not communicating. You’re just making mouth sounds.

If you have a problem with a certain journalist, publication, or newscast, then why dilute the impact of your commentary by spreading the blame? Aim both barrels where they belong: blast your target full-force. The Boston Globe is willfully ignoring a police crackdown on peaceful protests during a lucrative national medical convention, in the interests of protecting a huge advertiser: the Boston tourism industry. Wow! Well, they’ve definitely been very, very naughty. I hope you shine the Spotlight of Truth on their disgusting dereliction of duty.

You waste your shot by blaming it on The Mainstream Media instead. When I get to the end of your heroic screed I’m tempted to click the “Comment On This Post” button and ask you to explain what role, precisely, the Kansas City Star played in this hypocrisy and how they benefitted.

“Oh, all those Mainstream Media organizations behave the same way,” you counter. Ah. Is that why you won’t rent an apartment to one?

Again I say: it’s a meaningless term. Look at the state of publishing today. Does this look like an industry that’s good at working together on any kind of a common agenda?

So blame CNN for what you saw Sunday morning. Don’t blame all of professional journalism. Actually, better still: blame the producers and reporters who were involved in the Washington roundtable show that ticked you off. Leave the Saturday night sports guy out of it.

For bonus points on the Credibility Index, you should take a moment to consider if there’s an alternative explanation for this journalist or organization’s behavior that doesn’t somehow help to underscore your existing frustrations with the industry as a whole or with a reasonable point of view that you don’t happen to share. You want to know why stories don’t get published? For exasperatingly dull reasons. The reporter wasn’t able to convince his or her editor that it was worth the X inches of limited space available, in a newspaper that gets smaller and smaller with each passing quarter. In TV, it’s because they couldn’t convince a news producer that the story had enough of a “hook” to catch and hold the viewer’s interest and prevent him from changing the channel.

Is this sort of censorship a common failing of this so-called “mainstream media”? While we’re at it, is the “reliably consistent” perspective (to put it charitably) of certain news outlets an endemic problem?

Maybe. But a good story is a good story. Each outlet puts its own spin and its own lens on the day’s events. Some do so with an active agenda. Some are oblivious to their own slant. Some reporters and even some whole outlets aren’t worth a damn. But most strive for fairness and good practices. You’re committing a big whopper when you presume that the failings of each individual commercial news outlet can be quantified, summed with those of all of the others, and then averaged in a single figure of irresponsibility that represents the behavior of thousands of workers.

Oh, and one final addendum to this policy: if you write that this “mainstream media” of yours is “at it again,” “up to its old tricks.” or “still doesn’t get it,” then I get to jab you in the ribs hard with the blunt end of a Sharpie marker.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just received an IM from the Monsanto corporation. If I don’t write something positive about genetically-engineered corn in the next 90 minutes, they’re gonna take my free biodiesel Prius away.