Pay No Attention To The Genocide Behind The Curtain

Salma Ghanem, chair of the University of Texas-Pan American communications department, writes in the Dallas Morning News: “Let’s hope journalism students aren’t learning from example.”

She asks students in her introductory journalism class to define “newsworthy” and then delineates several “news values,” wondering aloud which values, if any, some of today’s most sensationalized stories are demonstrating.

This is the sort of talk about “media responsiblity” that I crave, but the argument always spirals off into a discussion of ratings, profits, and advertising revenues.

She thankfully floats a radical modest proposal:

” The media give the public what the public wants, but maybe it’s time to give the public what it needs instead. Is it naïve or idealistic to expect the media to operate outside a capitalist and competitive system in which profit is the bottom line? Perhaps we should start exploring new ways to fund the media so they won’t be susceptible to market forces.”

Yes it’s naive, and yes – it’s idealistic, but don’t we want idealistic journalists?

I’m young, naive, and idealistic enough to believe we do. In film school, I took a Producing class when I wanted to learn about the bottom line, and a Writing class when I didn’t want to worry about budgets. Are journalists supposed to worry about their advertisers? I’m pretty sure that’s someone else’s job.

For an interesting bit of inside friction on mass media’s coverage of Darfur, check out this Nicholas Kristof NY Times Op-Ed column. Kristof makes the case that whole sections of the media have their head in the sand about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, and then Joe Strupp at Editor & Publisher gives a handful of editors to respond.

The editors quoted in the E & P article seem to confirm, [my translation] Yes, we do have our heads in the sand. There’s lots of things around the world we don’t have the resources to pay any attention to. What are we supposed to do about it?

Here’s the money quote from John Yearwood, world editor of my hometown paper, the Miami Herald: “If we don’t cover the Michael Jacksons, that will be our demise…That is what the public wants. But, we ought to make the commitment to also give Darfur or Rwanda attention if we can.”

Right. Okay. Twenty bucks says that in ten years the news media will be running What Went Wrong: How We Missed The Big Story Of The Genocide In Darfur stories. Calling Mr. Pulitzer?

[tags]Darfur, Kristof, Ghanem[/tags]