Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Stale musings on paper dynamics and public discourse

Mar. 15: added a link.
Morning-after update: This post does look a bit dated; please read it more as an airing of general issues than as a pounding upon a specific newspaper. Also, tangential but perhaps illuminating: Points 4,7 and 8 here.

Found this dessicated Oetzi post way back in the textfile freezer, pulled it out, cranked up the microwave (and probably shouldn't be confessing its trajectory - maybe if it's drenched in ketchup you won't notice? in any case we don't think it's been served here before ) - voilá and bon appetit:


Former Editor driven round the bend by local animosity and strife:
Can we learn to talk to ourselves* instead of scream at ourselves?

If so, it must start with our community's leaders.

He's absolutely right about the starting point - any improvement in the quality of public discourse in this county does need to start with our community's leaders - particularly those leaders who are not aligned with a political party and who have - or at least appear to have - the power to improve the quality of public discourse in the community at large.

Who might these community leaders* be?

Try the editor and publisher of the local newspaper.

What power do they hold?

They have the community's loudest megaphone. They control the mix of positions and interests that get broadcast, they comment on the broadcasts, they control the rules by which broadcasters must abide.

Do they really have such power, or are they lackeys?

Sadly, editors are lackeys by definition: I have read (*?) that the union (so to speak) of editor and publisher is by no means a partnership of equals: the editor has the ability to beseech, and withhold favors, and spike the meatloaf with saltpeter, and file for divorce, but the publisher is the one who wears the pants and ends up getting title to the house.
(and so it came to pass)

Perhaps even the publisher is a lackey, a marionette whose strings are pulled by the paper's owner, to whom the bottom line is all; if this is the case, then empowering, informing and civilizing the citizenry may take a back seat to the less lofty goal of convincing said citizenry to further the owner's perceived financial interests.

Which would raise an interesting question:
Are newspapers just Tech Central Stations writ large, where innocent, well-meaning, ethical journalists write fair and balanced bait to lure the readers in, whereupon their Svengali masters use editorials or "product placement" to administer the psychoactive medication?

If so - if the editorials are tracts written in bad faith to manipulate the readers - are publisher and editor under any ethical obligation to inform said readers that informing the readers is not their goal?

Is this secretiveness ok, given that "everyone knows" that this is the purpose of editorials?

Does everyone know?

Is it true for all papers?

How does a reader evaluate whether a given paper's policy is to write editorials in an attempt to manipulate, vs. only to write - straightforwardly, without trying to mislead - what one sincerely believes to be true?

When the news and editorial pages appear to be coming from separate universes (as Joshua Marshall observes here), is this a reliable sign that the editorial writers are engaging in deliberate bad-faith efforts to sway reader opinion?

When the publisher is unwilling to respond to emails questioning the reasoning behind a questionable editorial (Emails of reason. Emails without screeches. Emails of respect and dignity*, for the most part), is this a reliable indication that the editorial was intended to manipulate? Complete unwillingness to engage in reasoned discourse can stem from knowing that you can't sincerely justify your position.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

* in this post we are doing the editor's bidding (as quoted above), and talking to ourselves. Passersby appear suspicious and perplexed however, so it may not be good advice.

(Writing style explanation: we had fallen under the influence of the
Mogambo Guru, who is, well, influential.

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