The Paradox of a Journalism Student With No Faith in Journalism

“What do you want to do when you’re done with school?”

It’s a question you get asked the minute you start college, and it only rises in frequency from there: anytime you’re home for the holidays, you meet a family friend, a stranger happens to see a college logo… hell, we college students are asking each other in the awkward silences of parties and first dates.

I used to love this question. I couldn’t wait to give someone my spiel about revolutionizing news, media and how it’s presented to the public. Of democratizing language and eliminating the hierarchy of content and media outlets that exists. Ever the starry-eyed idealistic freshman journalism student with a self-appointed purpose.

And context matters here. Six years into the eight year Obama administration, journalism was in an easy stalemate, a subtle stagnation lulled into existence by a liberal president and enough bad shit in the world where there was content to write… but that content generally existed away from the White House. Press briefings gave actual answers and things went according to plan.

At the time, this status quo annoyed me. No one held themselves or others accountable to the standard I felt was necessary. Liberal politicians weren’t called on their bullshit as much as they should have been. No one took the time to educate the public about politics and the implications of missteps or inaction. The context and ramifications of events was lacking, and this is where I wanted to step in.

Fast forward to summer 2015, primary season chugs to a start and the media machines follow the same old formula: sound bites, generalized summaries of candidates, single issue politics and divisive writing and reporting intended to eliminated intricacies of thought and purpose.

Bernie the old socialist, Hillary the woman, Trump the fool.

By perpetuating one-dimensional depictions of politicians and American politics, media failed the public. It became implicated in the eventual rise of the “dark horse” candidate, whose ideals and platform – deemed inane and meritless by the media outlets – were given more and more airtime, possibly as an in-joke for the demographics liberal media serves. Yet by continuing to fill the news cycle with his statements and taking time away from other candidates and debate topics: the media, the proclaimed enemy of the public, falls over itself to lambast or rationalize Trump’s ideals and actions.

He has become the new rule. Where it used to be “if it bleeds it leads” the new M.O. is:

TRUMP SELLS.

Whether or not you agree with Trump, you click on articles that have his name looking to confirm your own beliefs. To see your opinions included in the New York Times or InfoWars. We don’t naturally seek out media that differs from our opinions because in the age of the internet, we can seek out exactly what we want and pretend the other side doesn’t exist.

In an age where clicks mean revenue, you have to wonder: What becomes the most lucrative path of the media machines that have become so deeply entrenched in the economic, political and social systems of our society? Trump may have been the best thing to happen to the New York Times, a symbol in the industry for a media tycoon struggling to hold on in an increasingly digital age. A publication that was given a terminal diagnosis unless it found a way to increase interest in the market for physical newspapers and increase ad revenue online. Somehow again, it becomes the most trusted publication in the age of Trump.

Don’t get me wrong, is great to see the NYT get its groove back, to find its niche and target audience again — but from a marketing standpoint, the media offensive on Trump and campaign to challenge him through reduced price subscriptions to the New York Times was a brilliant ploy.

The media institution has in my insignificant opinion become the enemy of news. The counterproductive nature of this beast means that news must be marketable, affecting what gets covered and for how long. News itself by definition cannot lack bias — nothing can really be truly objective. But a time of giving the facts and just the facts no longer exists. You become news within the complicated dynamics of inherent bias, journalistic morals, distribution, outlet ownership and viability.

And so then comes the question: How does a journalism student that doesn’t have faith in American journalism, answer what they’ll do with their journalism degree? You could have an hour long debate about the merits of journalism and journalistic systems, the viability of journalism outside of economic and political influences and devoid of ulterior motive, and your solutions to the current media system…. check, check and check.

Yet with this comes the startling but expected realization that I have no solution. How does one remove the deep ties to political influence and market viability? Can you exist outside of the media system and still become as successful as those working within it? How do you reconcile your increasing nihilism about American systems and societal systems in general with your idealised view that someone needs to fix it?

I don’t have the answer to that. I also don’t have the answer to what I’ll be doing post-grad… but one step at a time maybe?

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