Such is our present state


Glen Pearson on the press gallery.

We are all aware that the media’s chief undertaking now is “agenda setting.”  It instructs us not so much how to think but what to think about. But once it accepts that less reflective role, it lies susceptible to the manipulations of political parties and their ability to capture attention. While a political strategy might indeed have been brilliant and effective, it might also be wrong and evasive.  Yet most in the media will have already moved on from that reality because deadlines were calling. The truth will probably never be discovered because the media really don’t have the time to undertake that kind of investigation.  Political manipulation wins and the truth is obscured or untested.

This is all probably true. Though deadlines are almost definitely a poor excuse.

If the press gallery fails, it fails of its own free will. It fails because its first, and often only, interest is who’s winning and who’s losing. Most major stories are framed on those grounds. Then “strategists” are invited to argue for their respective sides, polls are commissioned to give the impression of public interest and statistical foundation and then reporters are turned into pundits and asked to guess about what might happen next. 

Who’s winning is almost always the least interesting angle on every story. It’s usually the least relevant. But it’s the easiest. Anyone can do it because it’s all supposition. It’s ephemeral. And except when there’s an election, it exists only in theory. But it’s what people talk about here, so it’s what everyone here assumes everyone else should be interested in. Who these politicians are, what they do each day, what they say and where they’re taking the country is almost always considered secondary.

That, so far as I can tell, has nothing to do with how much time each member of the press gallery has in a day. And everything to do with how they understand what they’re supposed to be doing with that time.


Such is our present state

  1. Well Done … and very appropo as it were.

  2. I completely agree with my colleague…

  3. Thanks for the link to Glen Pearson’s blog posting, Aaron.

    I also liked your own reflections, particularly your points about stories being framed around “winners” and “losers”, and how “polls are commissioned to give the impression of public interest and statistical foundation”.

    This last point is one of my pet peeves: journalists who make spurious conclusions about the level of public interest in a particular issue, based only on slight movements in national political polls. It reminds me of soothsaying.

  4. Aaron, when you say “it’s what people talk about here” do you mean Ottawa? inside the Press Gallery? here on the blog?

    At least you and Kady get it. Thanks for that. Now, would you mind informing the rest of your peers? At the time, I honestly believed that the Iraq War mindless if-its-not-part-of-the-Bush-message-its-not-news thing could never happen here.

    I have absolutely lost any such confidence today.

  5. polls are commissioned to give the impression of public interest and statistical foundation

    …and as a way of generating terabytes of absolutely pointless commentary.

    Anyway, the problem with polls is not that they provide an impression of statistical foundation.. What is more ambiguous is whether they represent a scientific foundation of anything meaningful or at least of whatever meaning is assumed by reporters and the public. I maintain that they mostly do not.

    One can scream about this until one is hoarse, but I’ve seen very little discussion in the media about polling, especially here at Macleans’s Poll Cent…er, I mean Blog…Central. And I write this while a stupid little unscientific, pointless poll is right there, on the right of my screen.

  6. The professional media and the blogosphere are locked together in a death spiral. Neither want to simply discuss the issues and everything is perceived through the myopic prism of how it looks bad for the other guy.

  7. If i got the gist of Aarons story then it confirms something i’ve long thought; that is it’s a horse race, and who’s winning the focus of much of the coverage. This does indeed play into the pols hands, as it often validates the questionable tactics they use because, heh it’s all about winning anyway.
    So Aaron are you making a case for the media being not much more than a bunch of lazy [ in the sense of not doing the harder work of colouring in the pictures, rather than simply an outline ] so and sos who aren’t really interested in much beyond laying their bets on all the pretty horses? If so, is that the fault of the editors, publishers, owners, who? And what does that make the pols? Just folks striving to do their best? Or rather sinister manipulators and sleazy inside track operators who are willing to do anything in order to nobble the other teams nags? And the public of course is the unwary punter who’s just out for a nice day with the wife and veg, happy to blow a couple of bucks just for the privilege of cheering on all those wonderful thoroughbreds.
    Don’t feel you have to answer Aaron. I know you must be busy chasing down one or two of the contestants, but it’s for the greater good after all.

  8. I think there’s another factor at work here. Look at recent announcements by CanWest about their financial situation and the sale of assets. Look at the rise of blogs. I think a lot of reporters are also wondering who is reading/watching/listening and if they will still have a job this time next year.

  9. I absolutely don’t buy the bloggers vs. journalists thing. Or at least, I don’t buy that it should be or has to be that way. And I blame the journalists for the problem.

    Some bloggers and some journalists may not see eye-to-eye, mind you, but the two ‘products’ if you will are/should not only not (be) competing with each other, I believe they are mutually beneficial.

    Most blogs I’ve seen start their discussions with newspaper articles. Then they examine the subject from either a different point of view, or go more in depth with a specific aspect.

    On the other hand, often a fairly inconspicuous blog will mention something on a subject that is then taken up and referenced by a journalist. Such as the blog post on Canadian weapons transfers to Afghanistan that I fully expect to see highlighted by Paul Wells someday soon. He will, no doubt, add something to the discussion, and that discussion may get picked up by another blogger, and so on.

    This works really well, in my opinion. The problem comes in when the journalist is not handed the information to build an article around. (I don’t mean you, PW) It used to be, either that we were so uninformed that we didn’t know what we were uninformed about, or journalists had better access.

    But now that we know the vast number of things that are kept from us, I for one expect journalists to dig for the truth. You know, if every political journalist took only one of these no-information files, and really pried and prodded, we might get some good information. Instead, they all run like lemmings to the one story that has information readily available. Readily available to, like, bloggers, who often post the information first. All the news outlets have basically the same story, although written by a dozen or so different people. Little insight is gained by reading all of them instead of just one. And you usually know that stuff anyway. So why do people need to buy newspapers?

    What we need our paid journalists and reporters to do is go after the tougher stories! Then, newspapers would be filled with hard to find information, different information, information worth paying for. Maybe the papers would be smaller, since these tougher stories take much longer. Or maybe they could fill paper space with bald press releases which would get the information out there without taking a journalist away from the particular issue he/she is working on. I think we consumers are looking for quality now. We have more stuff to read now, too, after all.

Sign in to comment.