In an ideal world we would all demand unfabricated accounts of the world around us, unbiased appriasals of the stroies that matter.
By Ben Bull
Published January 24, 2007
(This article has been updated)
In the recent email interview with Clive Doucet, I asked the Ottawa City Councillor what communication method their council had used to sell the city's Light Rail Transit scheme to the public.
"We depended mostly on the media," he replied, adding, "It didn't work."
Doucet went on to explain, "What the media did was use the project to create controversy and to sell newspapers ... by giving every opponent of the project, no matter how ill-informed, ink and electronic space."
Hmm. Sound familiar?
I had an inkling that the local media might have had a role to play in Ottawa's Light Rail fiasco. Living in Hamilton for five and a half years I came to understand how un-newsworthy some media outlets can be, in their pursuit of more controversy, more readers (or more listeners) and more advertising dollars.
One of my neighbours in east Hamilton was a Hamilton Spectator reporter.
"Why do I get these ridciulous sections in my paper every week?" I asked him one time. "And what the hell did they do to the GO?"
He explained that the special sections of the paper were tailored to the needs of the newspaper's advertisors. They weren't so much news as vehicles for communicating advertisements to the paper's predominantly middle-class female demographic.
"Does that apply to the main section too?" I asked.
I befriended a couple more Hamilton journalists during my time in the Hammer, mostly through email exchanges and the odd chance encounter. Often it was their off-the-cuff remarks that gave me the greatest insight into their life between the lines.
I recall a drunken encounter with an after-work Spectator crowd. Talk of inner circle politics with Robbins and Dreschel at the helm filled the room, as did a general lament about the paper's 'new direction' and increasing tendancy to colour the front page red.
The idea, "If it bleeds it leads" is not new in the media game. Michael Moore examined this exhaustively in his media expose, Bowling For Columbine.
Who can forget that slick US TV Reporter, releasing a kid's balloon into the air as a poignent symobol of a childhood lost, as he rounded out his sickly 60 second segment into the incident of a nine year old boy who shot a classmate with his mothers gun?
"Nobody bothered to ask why or how this happened," observed Moore, "because nobody cared."
In an ideal world we would all demand unfabricated accounts of the world around us, unbiased appriasals of the stroies that matter. But we don't. What we demand are stories of the rich and famous, who's sleeping with whom, who's wearing what and who forgot to wear their knickers today.
When it comes to the 'hard' news (aka the 'real' news) we want easy to digest soundbites, and hey! ? no messy pictures! We're eating here!
Hamilton today is riddled with hard news. It is regretful that a large segment of the local media just don't seem to 'get it' when it comes to responsibility reporting this hard news.
Instead of tackling Hamilton's issues in a sensible and constructive manner, instead of helping Hamiltonians understand the causes and solutions to these concerns, Hamilton's media outlets continue to whip up controversy and stoke the flames.
This leaves many Hamiltonians in a state of constant ignorance and agitation, but - more importantly - with an appetite for more.
That's just how the media machine likes it.
Update: I just received this newspaper link from RTH reader Sean Botham:
Check it out. While people may bemoan such journalistic efforts as unprofessional and irresponsible, I find these news streams quite refreshing.
It's reassuring to know I'm not the only one fed up with our advertiser driven 'news' conglomerates.
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