Opinion, Dave Dale: Media literacy can help navigate conflicting narratives
Primary is probably the best place to start teaching students about the global news buffet and how healthy news eating depends on your choices.
An acquaintance asked me the other day if the government controls what the mainstream media reports and it actually gave me hope instead of dismay. Their question capped several weeks of “discussion” of conflicting narratives as the pandemic turns two years old, Russia wages war in Ukraine and economies deflate.
“Is it true that the media in Ontario or Canada for that matter is paid for by the government and only reports what the government wants to print or broadcast on television? I hear this all the time, I feel like there’s truth behind it, but is it really possible?
It’s a good question that deserves a better answer than, “No, it’s something spread by nefarious agents to destabilize democratic society or by ‘media villains’ seeking to entice disenchanted sheep for their own shearing. “
Of course, there are times when a news outlet falls prey to human flaws, whether it’s trusting an unreliable source or editorial managers genuinely agreeing with a government policy, thinking it’s is in the best interest of the public. The last American war against Iraq is one of the most flagrant examples of media complicity. And there are many scenarios and cases where one or more mainstream media go down overtly ideological paths, sometimes permanently as a business decision. It’s certainly not cut and dry where you can die on the hill of mainstream media objectivity.
Part of my excitement for setting up such thinking is fueled by the exhaustion that follows ‘whack-a-mole’ conversations about vaccines, variants, data gaps, immunity by infections, etc. And if one more person equates the muddled motives of the mislabeled “freedom convoy” and “peaceful protests” with the thousands of true patriots and non-combatants killed in Ukraine, I could explode into a million apple-stuffed pierogies earthen.
Media literacy, by comparison, is a welcome topic that underpins much of the confusion and angst about these same topics and more as we enter another economic roller coaster.
Asking someone with a background in journalism if mainstream media is fake news and/or government propaganda is a positive sign that a person is doing their own thinking.
There are many complex layers and nuances involved when discussing so-called “media objectivity” and how this fits with the financial and political biases of information operations. There is also the subject of the professionalism of individual journalists and the media literacy of information consumers. And because the media landscape and the business model that supported it have been disrupted by the Internet, the definition of the industry has evolved.
From the outset, Canada and Ontario fund some aspects of the “media” activity and we are in the midst of a five-year program of local journalism initiative to help private media hire additional journalists to cover communities. underserved. And, of course, our country has CBC and Radio Canada, a federal crown corporation acting as a public broadcaster, and TVOntario, funded primarily by the Ministry of Education envelope.
In addition, there are “media” grants designed to stimulate digital innovation and some of these are aimed at cultural diversity in programming.
It would be easy to assume that there are strings attached to the public purse, if you look from the outside in, but several factors come into play. First and foremost, this is not a big part of the overall budget of a major media outlet. More importantly, government propaganda repels viewer and reader support, which is essential for ad revenue. The most important currency for a media is its ability to provide a body of information that is independent of government approval.
In fact, there was a time when mainstream journalistic publications refused any type of government funding (except for advertising, they have always loved promotional budgets for federal and provincial programs.) This is one of the things I learned when I first knocked on the Nugget door in 1986 looking for a summer job. There was a provincial job creation program ready to cover my salary, but Southam newspapers at the time did not operate that way.
Things have changed considerably since then, mainly thanks to the advent of free news available on the Internet. Massive declines in ad revenue, rising technology and publishing costs, and the evaporation of subscription models (with publishers cutting staff and product quality) have taken their toll. The Local Journalism Initiative, with about $150 million split among dozens of publishers to hire reporters to cover small-town civic issues, was set to replace some positions cut due to revenue sucked up by Google, Facebook and Facebook. other social media giants.
My six-month stint with Village Media a year ago was one of those LJI positions, the same one Stu Campaigne started out with and now held by David Briggs. The only government string attached was that these were reports on communities outside of BayToday’s main market and no articles based on the opinion of the funded journalist.
It didn’t change the report.
From what I have seen in over 35 years in the media industry, government funding does not dictate what and how “news” is covered by non-public entities. The truth is that taking a long and hard look at government policies and programs is still the best and easiest strategy for gaining readership (and therefore ad revenue).
There’s an easier argument to make that the fear of losing advertisers — or the hope of gaining them — simmers in the minds of some publishers more than government subsidies. The Nugget, for most of the time I was there, had a figurative brick wall between the news and publicity departments for this exact reason. After four decades of working in various news outlets, I have never been told to toe the government line on anything…even though I was subtly informed (and self-censored myself) because it was clear that one or two of my story ideas weren’t worth it.
I’ve always accepted this as part of the community news game, although I’ve never met a real investigative journalist or a major market editor who would accept this eventuality.
When it comes to political bias, I’ve never been told to support one party over another, although it’s obvious that there are news publishers and corporations that lean one way or the other. the other. That’s especially clear during the peak of election cycles, but it’s not because an editor is trying to sway readers in an effort to swing an election or gain political points and government grants. This is often because the publisher believes in the ideology and the majority of readers and advertisers who support the outlet do so as well.
Pick any medium and you’ll probably be able to sense its general stance on a political spectrum, even if the reporters and editors do a great job of covering issues objectively. That’s why it’s always recommended to have more than one source of up-to-the-minute, in-depth information – you’ll never get the whole story in one place.
This is the crux of the problem: to give full confidence to any media is to do yourself a disservice. You need to read at least three or four reports on the same topic from established media outlets or independent experts to be sure you get a decent idea of what’s going on.
All of these issues are more acute now that we face a 24/7 news cycle that requires instant coverage of current events, forcing journalists to take shortcuts. That’s why you see so many single source stories with only part of the issue covered – there just isn’t enough time and resources for the first episode to be more than the first draft with limited scope . It often takes three or four stories just to give a balanced and thoughtful account of something, with each piece considered a substandard effort.
When people tell me it’s the media’s fault they can’t trust them, I often explain that they’re an equally big part of the problem. Truth is a moving target and you should never depend solely on others to pin it down – they may provide pieces of the puzzle, but it’s up to you to put them together.
This is clearly a massive topic and I’m barely scratching the surface. I’ve arguably raised more questions than answers, in part because the mainstream media is not a homogenous group that acts in unison. The journalistic landscape is made up of companies competing for market share, and each operates individually and at different levels.
Perhaps we should teach media literacy alongside efforts to improve financial education, with economic theory and geopolitics as complementary courses?
Not too long ago I thought this should be a high school credit course, but I’ve noticed that many parents are instilling anti-media myths in their kids. Primary is probably the best place to start educating students about the global news buffet and how healthy news eating depends on your choices.
News is a bit like nutrition, you are what you eat. And remember, if you’re not paying for it…you’re the product.
Dave Dale is a seasoned journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for over 30 years. Reader responses in the form of letters to the editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the author directly, send an e-mail to: [email protected] or visit his website www.smalltowntimes.ca