Feb. 4th, 2017

dogriver: (Default)
Over the last thre or four years or so, I have seen outcry after outcry by the media, particularly in Canada. It started with television stations, local stations, insisting that government policies should artificially prop them up, or else local news reporting was in jeopardy. Rather than address the fact that an increasing number of Canadians were considering television news to be less and less relevant, television stations wanted to keep on in the old, less relevant path, by imposing things such as carriage fees to distributors, exclusivity, etc., so that these traditional methods of reporting could go blissfully on in a vacuum free of consumer opinion or relevance. This is, of course, very alluring: it doesn't matter how many people watch your newscast if they're all going to pay for it regardless. These same media people tend to criticize the CBC (and rightly so) for operating in precisely the same way private media now wants to operate.

The media has also been crying foul every time a politician refuses to play the game the way the media wants it played. This sense of entitlement means that, if you are a politician not willing to kiss the feet of the press, you are opposed to freedom of the press.

Now the media is taking arms against its readers, viewers, and listeners. The media love to criticize ... in many ways this is their job, it's what they do. Unfortunately, many members of the media are absolutely horrible about graciously taking criticism themselves. A consumer says there is media bias. No, says the media, we're unbiased, we're just not saying what you want to hear. And no doubt this is sometimes true, but certainly not always. The media, composed of people, mere mortals like us, is going to have its biases. Fox News is going to be conservative, CNN is going to be liberal; the CBC and NPR are going to be liberal, some private news outlets, founded by conservatives who felt their views weren't being expressed, are going to be conservative. Most media outlets got formed because those people forming it felt there was a bias that needed to be corrected. Well, news flash: bias didn't end when you joined the fray; it existed before you got there, it continues to exist today.

Social networking, forums, web pages with comment facilities, these things have all led us into a society where the consumer of the news is no longer content to simply read, watch, or hear the news, they want to engage, to actually have opinions of their own, to agree or disagree with what is being read or expressed. And here is where traditional media people are faling flat on their faces. They prefer hiding behind their printing presses, their cameras, their microphones, where they have, in the past, been free to criticize at will. The only criticism they'd ever hear in return came from letters to the editor, which were themselves prescreened before being published. The new age doesn't allow for members of the media to hide in this form of semi-anonymity any more. Media suddenly need to be able to defend their opinions, to prove their lack of bias, and to be held accountable if they are unable or unwilling to do either of the above. And they don't like it.

I'm hearing people in the media say that we, the mere mortals who read their work, need to adjust to changing times. Well, that adjustment needs to include them as well. Are consumers finding local TV news less relevant than they once did? Well, whose fault is it? Maybe no one's, it's just a sign of changing times, to which the media must adapt. When I started in internet broadcasting, one of the things I was forced to realize is that no one is obligated to listen to my shows. It is my responsibility, as a broadcaster, to deliver a product that people want to hear. I wasn't going to get subsidies paid for by internet users who don't want to hear me; no one was going to put a law into effect to protect my product from irrelevance. The responsibility was, is, mine. If people don't want to listen to me, I need to change my program, broadcast to no listeners, or try some other endeavor. The day I blame the consumer for choosing not to listen to me is the day I absolutely just don't get it. But this is what the media is doing. They don't want to adapt to changing times, they don't want to accept that freedom of the press might also mean freedom from the press, they don't want to face criticism, they are the ones who need to reevaluate their product, to either make it relevant to us or to cut their losses and try something else.

I love the media. I have lots of good friends in the media, and I have a great deal of respect for these people. They have made me think. Through their opinions and their criticism, they make me reevaluate some of the ideas or institutions which I have held dear all my life. And to their credit, many of my friends in the media are also good listeners. But not all. There are still many people in the media who are whining, complaining, crying foul, because their traditional approach is under pressure. The dinosaur of media must evolve, or else it will eventually become extinct. The media must do its part to make itself relevant to the consumer. This means not begging for artificial propping up by the government; this means not blaming the consumer for directing its attention elsewhere or for daring to question the thoughts and opinions of media outlets and people. It means that the media need to start doing what it is so good at telling others to do: change with the times, become relevant, stop trying to hold society back by clinging to the past, and work at thriving in the future. The onus is on the sender of the message, not on its intended audience. Society will move ahead, and you, my friends in the media, had darned well better move with us or be left behind.


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Bruce Toews

August 2017

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