Why are the Mainstream Media so bad?

What a lovely evening #Westskep with the West Minster Skeptics last night was. Personal highlights include briefly meeting the delightful and thoroughly understandably  lethargic Laurie Penny, shouting at Anna Chen, and the wonderfully restrained conflagration between Suzanne Moore and ex-Daily Star hack Richard Peppiatt. [1]

However, substantively, I was a little disappointed.

The problem with discussing the media, mainstream of otherwise, in a pub full of skeptics, is that a pub full of skeptics makes for a very unrepresentative  sample of those who consume the media. This, frankly, should have been picked up on and neon lit in front of the panelists.

Writing in general exists to either entertain, inform, explain, describe, argue, persuade and advise, or for no particular reason at all; quite often writing is just absent-minded scribble. The media in all its forms performs these roles every single day.

The Westminster Skeptics quite understandably see the media as a tool for informing the public, explain the facts and describe the situation. Laurie Penny no doubt sees the media as a tool to argue, persuade and advise others on things as diverse as Charlie Sheen and Saif Gaddafi.

However, I would argue that most people see the media as entertainment. People do not pick up the Metro to be informed on the way into work, or the Evening Standard just in case they missed something while at work. The Daily Star is entertainment, when you see it as competing with Angry Birds rather than the Financial Times it begins to make more sense as a product.

This was the elephant in the room when somebody asked “do the public deserve a more honest media?”

Honesty is boring. Asylum Seekers have never eaten a swan, but the story has legs because it is outrageous. Nobody has avoided deportation because of a pet cat, but people believe it because it gives them something to talk about. Jordon and Peter Andre are not getting back together, but people are interested because…well, okay, I don’t know why, but they are.

The truth is often a lot more boring, and almost always a lot more nuanced. Asylum Seekers do come to the UK because we’re wealthy rather than hang around in camps in Niger, but who blames them? It is wrong to deport people with close links to the UK, even if they built those links while here illegally, and Jordon and Pete probably still have some feelings for each other, but sometimes these things just cannot work out.

There is an abbreviation gap between the left and right and between liberals and authoritarians.

Pointing out a Bad Thing and saying something must be done, usually deportation, is easy. Job done. To point out the fallibility of the criminal justice system or the rigged nature of global flows of goods, services, capital and people is more complicated. As Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, founder of The Daily Mail knew, the British people love a good hate. It is quick clean fun, simple to parse and easy to discuss.

This abbreviation gap is key, until skeptics package the truth in nugget sized pieces, and swear to never use the word dialectic or phrase “fiat currency,” the mainstream media will remain bad. Bad but wrong is more entertaining than correct but boring, and changing that will do far more than giving the Press Complaints Commission more teeth.

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[1] In short, don’t fuck with Suzanne Moore.

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4 thoughts on “Why are the Mainstream Media so bad?

  1. My work here is done ! I will never be a better footnote!
    Also agree there was no sense of need to entertain. The media does not merely function to inform. I find the skeptics crowd extremely odd , unrealistic and actually impervious to any evidence that doesnt fit their world view…

    1. Thanks Suzanne,

      It is off that the skeptics aren’t as aware that they are “different” to everyone else as they are. If everyone was a skeptic, there’d be no needs for westminster skeptics.

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