Global Hopes in News Transmission
"And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature
is enlightened or unenlightened: - Behold! human beings living
in an underground den, which has a mouth open toward the light
and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their
childood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they
cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented
by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and
behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire
and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you
look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which
marionette players have in front of them, over which they show
"And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying
all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made
of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over
the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
"You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange
"Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own
shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws
on the opposite wall of the cave.
- Plato, Republic
Global news in transition
More than thirty years ago, Marshall Mc Luhan, in his message-ridden "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man", pronounced his wordly desire for the electronic overthrow of print-related hierarchies by a 'mosaic mesh' of information networks, as a kind of discontinuous, skew and non-lineal compressional implosion. At the same time this complexly divided world of ours - through a single unified experience of all inclusive images, made possible by the alchemy of post-modern instantaneous communication - was to be turned into a more or less futuristic, Global Village.
These visionary remarks of his - emblematizing the myth of an Information Society in its anthropological sense, and foreshadowing the mighty conceptualization of "Le d�fi mondial": a third wave towards a globally wired and information-prosperous post-industrial society - might not be absolutely compatible with the iconoclastic spirit of some of our critically inspired review and discussion sessions concerning the development of a Global Electronic Journalism. In reverse, the mega-hyped worshipping of universalized idols, obviously has something in common with the widespread dis-belief in otherness, beside the dream of an utopian technology, destined for an un-defined, but still media-mediated, popularized fiction of freedom for man.
Say, on what digitalized channel is that revolution to be televized? In the wake of a global war of images, waged by the image super powers that be, politically and culturally defined traditions of public service interests, as well as nationally regulated boundaries of a broadcasting system, certainly is not assumed as constituting the image domain to be taken into consideration as the most likely candidate surviving the flows of a virtually transformed space.
But still, there are hopes for a differently conceptualized reality to be accounted for.
In some, not too glamorous, ways, the following text very much could be seen as a kind of writing up of thought, partly presented as a response to questions aired at one of our recusant sessions, naimly the one following a guest appearance of Aktuellt�s Lennart Winblad, despite the fact that the literate part of my soul mainly would prefer to regard it as a reinstatement of certain of the basic themes in the pro-ceedings of Global News, inspired by some pertinant questions of an examining nature, but structured from an Enlightenment perspective.
First of all, for the angle, a number of the things that Winblad - on the transmitting side of the rostrum - was saying to us, the receiving mass of prospective decoders, were interesting in the sense that from his own personal experiences, reflections and impressions, he conveyed a strong sense of the historical transition in the way journalism is done, through the changes in the media, the economic logic, and so on. Properly attuned minds could also sense a touch of melancholy in the presentation - the golden years, the past and what�s happening now. However, as a reflective voice told us the other day, even if there is such an emphasis on commersialism, it�s important that we do not become paralysed by these factors, but that we confront them and understand them, and try to work in and around and through them.
One way for us to come to terms with this, is to begin an analysis - that could be filled with more detail and examples - by relating Michael Schudson�s reviewing in "The sociology of news revisited" to what Winblad was talking about. Schudson does not speak directly about foreign news that much, but he does invite a productive way of thinking. And what emerges is the need to take into account of three dimensions, which really is the service that his article does, by summarizing the research.
"If you begin with the political economy side of it", to follow an edited version of an authentically voiced review given by JMK�s Peter Dahlgren, "what�s nice is that you do not have to be a militant or even a mild marxist to acknowledge the impact of economic or commercial logic on the news. And Winblad, as a working journalist, senses this, so he is talking a little bit of the shift in news values, and so forth.
Traditionally, in the United States, news was something you had to do because of the regulations from Washington. But little by little news started to be a money-maker even in the commercial systems, and therefore the economic imperatives were making further inroads into the nature of the news that you are getting. And so globally, this is true too, with foreign news. How much space within any news program, newspaper, and so on, will be alloted to foreign news and what kind? And with enhanced consideration for audience size, profits and losses, one tends to, again in a sort of legitimized way, to lean towards those news criteria which say, 'well, foreign news should always be sort of exciting and sensational, dramatic', and so on.
And I was interested to note that he was saying that in the past, going back a number of decades, then just because of the technology of it, you had to make a story that wouldn�t be outdated. It would have a shelf-life of at least about 24 hours, if it was going to be shipped and someone might be showing it the following day, which then made you produce a story which perhaps had a bit more depth, a bit more perspective, and not the absolute, immediate happening, as is more and more the case today. And then you are saying the competition to be first means that you are not always doing good journalism. So that part of Schudson�s argument is very apparent.
If you move to the organizational side, you can see, first of all, how organizational structures is partly a question of economics. He says, 'we do not have enough money to have a whole bunch of foreign correspondents any more, we are forced to use more and more subscription news from the news services, and buying in from CNN and Euronews exchange service', and so forth.
And I think that is an important thing to note. But then also one can look at how the technology itself is changing the news, and this is becoming particularily relevant then you are getting into the hardware itself and what we can do with it. How does this alter the way you think about news? And, indeed, it provoke the question 'what is news, for whom?', as the technology itself fosters more fragmentation of audiences, and so forth.
The economics, the technology, new kinds of ways of doing international news, also have a baring on the culture of journalism. Say, journalistic culture and journalistic perceptions, journalists understandings of, not only the social world, but of their own work routines, and so forth. Maybe it�s harder to see the impact at that particular level of Schudson�s three areas, because that comes slower. But, I think, generally you can see changes going on.
We have been talking about this in the area of professional identity of journalists, that this is becoming a much more elastic notion. And the ethics - virtual morality - are becoming more pluralistic, so you are more likely to take into consideration non-journalistic criterias, for example the economic calculation."
... and logic
Thank you, Peter. But don�t you think there is a kind of media logic at work, too?
"Oh, undoubtely. There is a media logic at work from the very moment the coverage starts. Remember then Winblad is talking about the 5.000 journalists descending on the South African elections. And comparable things. Rosenblum is writing about this too. Major events, like the disaster in Somalia, makes big news. And it�s inevitable, with that kind of massive coverage, that events shapes themselves, adapts themselves, pleade to the news media as well.
And the interesting thing about media logic and media formats, is not just what comes out at the end. In other words, there are these different genres - the talkshow, the press interview, the press conference, the tv news interview, the short sequence of foreign telegrams - all of which give shape to what can and can�t be said. But there is also a media logic at the production end. What has to be done to get the news in? And how do you make news if you want to get news in, if you are a news maker with the ambitions of planting. And more and more news is a joint production between news makers and journalists, and not least the question of timing.
This kind of symbiotic negotiating type of relationship, there you wanna make sure that the coverage is right, can be a useful lense to see with. Every time you watch a piece of news, think: what�s behind this, who wanted to get this on and how did they most likely go about it, who was contacted, what kind of material was presented in advance, what kind of strategies might be used? Because more and more news is not something that the journalists goes out and finds.
News then becomes something which is fed to the media by large powerful interests and organizations, and they are no fools. They are press attach�s, who go and take courses like this, and know how to manipulate the media."
Mort Rosenblum - prompting "Who Stole the News?" - gives a lot of empirical examples of what�s going on in the world of foreign correspondents, and from him we get ample evidence of the ways of the bandwagon, from the Mogadishuman disaster to Bosnia, and there seems to be still more Gulf War stories to be told. Still, he is self-conscious enough to proclaim: "For all the apparatus above us - the corporate structure, the commentators who interpret raw data, the cheerleaders who write house ads - we are where the rubber meets the road. However loud it may boast or whatever its stars may earn, no organization is better than its lowest paid stringer in Amnesiastan. In fact, if any of its reporters foul up, all of 'the media' pay."
The eleventh sentence...
The use of metaphors are of communicating, simplifying in order to more easily study phenomena, exhibiting certain qualities, and hiding other qualities, and still another thing from our encounter with Mr Winblad that got my mind going, is his rather picturesque description of the growing difficulty he sensed in the possibility for journalists to add their own perspective or version to a story, that is, to say something differently in the vernacular of global news production. Off course, we should hesitate from generalizing too much, because journalism in itself doesn�t encompass a wide array of genres, and different media and situations vary somewhat from country to country, but basically we could say that within television and the daily news-papers, the economic difficulties tends to mean that there is less time to do the same amount of work, and sometimes it�s less time to do more work. "And you don�t need to be an organizational specialist to figure out what will happen to investigative journalism in that kind of situation, it becomes luxury, expensive. From the editorial and directorship perspective it�s something that you don�t want to encourage too much, because it takes a lot of resources, takes time."
The writings of Roger Wallis and Stanley J. Baran, approaching "The Known World of Broadcast News", is more aimed at trying to interpret, make sense of, the kinds of things that people like Rosenblum and Winblad is talking about, and apply some kind of systematization to it.
Meanwhile, we can amuse ourself with their reading of how the broadcast news elephant views the world: "foreign news items (...) are often bundled together in a few short bursts, with pictures to suit. An up-tempo collage of foreign news visuals adds to the slickness of a television bulletin. It adds drama, a sense of urgency, and gives the impression that a professional job has been done. It gives the 'around the world in 30 seconds' feeling. Style tends to dominate; the substance becomes almost irrelevant. In such an environment, the serious broadcasters, wishing to provide analysis, endeavouring to give the viewer time to digest the significance of the items, have a tough task ahead."
Anyone interested in the possibilities and difficulties of reporting on international military activities, might be well advised to take note of how technological, economical and political factors affect news selection, but Wallis and Baran - who offers dramatic evidence of this from the American bombing of Tripoli in 1986 - are putting forward a model for news flow, which also takes into account that the choice of mode of presentation is carried out by members of organizations: management can oscillate between strategies of 'entertaining' and 'informing', depending on how they perceive the demands of the consumer of news programmes. "The actual choice of items and the choice of treatment are obviously related to what is actually happening in the world, but it is also tied to priorities set in the news organisation" and the resulting output - in this view of the 'sociology of foreign news'- is in part a result of interaction between different personal beliefs, collective norms and external pressures.
... in contra-flows
A "Panorama" magazine report, cited by Wallis and Baran, concludes that the Global Village is not "uniformly illuminated. Depending on the hut you live in, you see different patches of light - and fail to see different patches of darkness". But from a comparative perspective, conducted by our research twins, it would seem reasonable to assume that the communicative eruptions of the Information Society, must have had some effect on the concept of 'distance' in news reporting and selection. So, "has it created citizens, ritually watching the television news, coming to know more about different parts of the world? Or has it merely allowed more people in different countries to partake of the same fare that has always been offered to those owning televisions? Do we hear more, just as much, or even less about parts of the world? Has the traditional flow of news from the industrialized world to the Third World been balanced by an increased return of information in the opposite direction?"
Much of this discussion - related to the way in which news from the Third World is portrayed in Western media - stems from debates and studies instigated within the UNESCO family of nations and the 'New Information Order' controversy. And concern over the issue of a more balanced view, was reflected in the MacBride report - humanized as "Many Voices, One World" - demanding changes in the obvious inequity in the flow of news and information between industrialized and developing nations.
"The proposals", as reported by Wallis and Baran, "were roundly condemned by some reporters and politicians in the Western world for what they saw as an incompatability between the principles of a 'free' flow of information and press freedom. At the very least, this debate played a role in the departure of the US from UNESCO. Still, others with more of an academic and less of a professional/ financial interest in news flow, have pointed out that the same few main streets in the global media village seem to be illuminated, despite all the suburbs that have been built."
Several key issues have dominated the debate about the 'New International Information Order' - echoing the call for the creation of a 'New World Economic Order', in which many of the obstacles to 'Third World' economic development would be removed - as recalled by Geoffrey Reeves in "Communications and the 'Third World'" : "One has been the flow of information between western capitalist societies and the former socialist societies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. A second has been the imbalance in flow between North, understood as the industrialized, predominantly capitalist, information-rich, and South, understood as 'Third World' countries. Within these two major areas of contention there have been three principal areas of complaint: first, the imbalance of flow between East and West, and North and South; second, the content of the flow in each direction; and third, the control of the flow of information. The complaints have invariably been couched in cultural and media imperialist terms, with the United States domination of media and communications production under attack. Anglo-American News agencies - AAP, UPI, Reuters - along with the largest suppliers of news film - Visnews, UPITN, and CBS - which are also Anglo-American, have been identified as of fundamental importance to the imbalance, content, and control of international information flow (...) and thus central to cultural imperialism."
The pressures facing the contra-flows in the media might seem to imply a worst case scenario, but technology - lo and behold! - is seen by Wallis and Baran as offering a more optimistic view of the media�s development, because "the scizophrenic combination of internationalization (a few large international news suppliers closely interlinked) and localization (a multitude of smaller and/or independent broadcasters employing low cost technology or small elements of high technology) could produce just the opposite movement".
The proposition is that news might develop like the popular music industry has, and now I can hear "Big sounds from small peoples" revolving on the turntable. "A few large companies now provide the resources and technology for the international flow of recorded music. But they cannot monopolize it all. A plethora of small and/or independent producers is constantly active, occasionally using services provided by the giants, taking the risks in the market-place, and giving exposure to new and different content, content that the Bigs could not and would not touch."
These crystal ball-wize contenders makes the prediction that "it will be the medium-sized, public service broadcasters and the larger independents with resources to invest in international news gathering that can be expected to produce the most unusual and adventurous forays into foreign news reporting".
"They will have the greatest need to develop unique, specific competences."
But, what about the other fellows?
"The Bigs will be too involved in maintaining their status quo "vis- �-vis" competitors and other participant groups."
And the vendors back home?
"On a lower level of magnitude, there will always be small, shoe-string budget operators interested primarily in minimizing costs and therefore buying their foreign news material from the cheapest sources."
Food for thought, comrades.
Addressing the popular...
And now, something different: a public analogy! Keeping in mind possible variations of the ways one person addresses the other, provides a sense of how this tends to structure the relationship, define it�s parameters.
The category 'mode of address' is the basic analogy of that relationship, and if we translate this to the news media - taking into consideration that it�s not like the mode is always homogeneous, but vary within a progam, from news story to news story, between certain media - one can be addressed as a spectator, who essentially will maintain a spectator stance to the social and political world, and you present the world in a way which reinforces that type of relationship. But, then, another way of addressing is to invite, provoke, stimulate. Not that we are going to say this in so many words, but within the journalistic tradition there are ways of insinuating, suggesting, that you want to evoke that kind of response.
"A basic distinction in mode of address research", says our well-informed guide into the realms of scientific discovery, "is the audience being addressed as consumers, or as citizens. Do you in the news, for example, invite critical reflection. Are you, in the narrative discourse, leaving things open, unresolved, and letting audiences resolve them. If everything is always resolved, you put the lid on, everything is taken care of. This is the message of: keep out, you are in good hands, don�t intrude."
This becomes particularily relevant in the context of what is called popular news, but before we continue this side of the story, let�s dig deep into the history of ideas!
... within the Enlightenment tradition
How would you characterize a judgment? One definition is offered by the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, introducing the "Critique of Judgment": "Judgment in general is the faculty of thinking the particular as contained under the universal." Thus defined, this concept is in turn subdivided, and where the universal (the rule, principle, or law) is given, the judgment is determinant, but where the universal is lacking, this must be posited as a reflective judgment "which is compelled to ascend from the particular in nature to the universal stands, therefore, in need of a principle. (...) Such a transcendental principle (...) the reflective judgment can only give as a law from and to itself".
The intention of Ronald Beiner, in his "Political Judgment", is to outline a philosophy that could strengthen the political legitimacy of the members of a society, as against a rationality merely identified in terms of a rule-governed behaviour.
The philosophical rhetoric and ethics of Aristotle - one of the founding fathers of philosophy - is another corner-stone in this advocacy to evolve a political theory, where practical wisdom (phronesis) is a virtue to be endowned a person who, not only finds himself to be in possession of knowledge of the requirements of a particular moral situation, but who also has the capacity to act in accordance with his understanding. For example, in a situation where a friend or citizen acts and co-examines what lies in the common interest, and is in this sense a judgment embodied in action.
Kant, however, is demanding a formal distance in the political judgments, and does not share Aristotle�s appreciation of the rhetorical ability to - from an understanding of the needs and views of the other person, in an exchange of opinion - gain a hearing for one�s own judgments, and thereby achieve mutual agreement concerning, for instance, what is most fair.
Still, a common feature for these philosophers, is that the political reflection requires of the judging subject to make up his mind about his own identity (who am I?), what he wants, and how he is going to achieve this.
Allright, folks. Sit tight. We are back in the coach. Here he is again, you won�t miss him:
"Now, in the (media) literature, some people will say: 'well, let us not just have a knee-jerk reaction against popular journalism, and say "oh, isn�t it terrible"', because it might be addressing the audience in a mode which invites response, which is provocative.
The problem with that, other people will say, is that: 'are they inviting involvement? They invite response, they provoke discussions. But the question is: about what?' And often, and it seems to be increasingly so, the topics tends to be in the realm of everyday life. Well, I mean this is important in some ways, but in terms of the political, public sphere, that kind of treatment is not applied to the more serious or larger, common, issues. So, my argument is: how about a popular mode of address regarding major political issues within journalism, not inviting a stance, but provoking response, provoking thought?"
As we have seen, this is a familiar theme within the philosophical tradition of our choice, and if we reflect upon a well-known and recent example, namely the swedish bank scandal of the eighties, few theoretically informed practitioners would doubt that the press and particularily television journalism could have done much more to make this a political issue rather than an administrative issue, "an issue which has to do with peoples wills, and a moral, ethical issue, rather than a problem to be solved by technocrats. And had it done that, it might have created more instability than the system could handle. I would say that, if you go back to the original two questions that journalism always have to resolve - what to cover, and how to cover it - in the way this was covered, it dampened rather than invited popular involvement".
In a global perspective, we could transfer this provocative issue into the reception of far away news items, like the reporting of a Third World famine and revolutionary upheavals in other remote parts of the universe, or the seemingly timely format of the news broadcast, which gives the impression of a wonderful fit beteen the news presentation and the daily happenings of the globe.
What public response is this supposed to encourage? Do you just get blas� in the sofa, or are you really an all satisfied and informed citizen?
Sensationalism is on the agenda here, because there seems to be this need to escalate the drama, but "keep in mind that provocative does not necessarily mean sensational. I mean, you can be very low key and still be awfully provocative just by the way you say things, the way you assume what the audience is capable of doing. But, I mean, having said that, one has to also realize that inevitable, in any kind of communication, routine sets in, it becomes ritualized. That�s why, I think, maybe in journalism in particular, to gain the kind of effect you want, you may sometimes have to break with the routine, and sometimes, breaking with the routine might mean being provocative or finding another style, or whatever it might be".
This is not to say that we should be the promoters of some kind of grotesque sensationalism, of which historical research may be our witness: "if you look at the kinds of things that were shown and not shown, just in terms of, say, violence, in portrayal of news, it�s got a lot heftier. Stuff which is rather routine now, was propable unthinkable in the sixties. But we get used to it. So, no matter what your strategy is, there is always a question of routine, that the unusual, the provocative, the new, the exciting, will become routine. This is really the way the social world works even at it�s most fundamental level. You can say this is good or bad, but routinization sets in, in all human situations. There is always the humdrum everydayness of the repetitive, however wonderful it might be, the deadening effect of routine. And I think this is one of the difficulties facing the media. There is an institutional imperative that 'the show must go on, every goddamned night'."
One step towards an answer, then, in between Scylla and Carybdis, might be to exhibit a rather more friendly intimacy, as opposed to, perhaps, a more olympian, detached professional mode of address, not to mention some of the evening tabloids facing the sun.
"Anyway, and at practical day bases, keep in mind as a journalist: you are talking to people. How do you want them to respond to what you are saying? Keeping that in mind will perhaps shake a little bit the way you package. How do you do that? Well, there is no easy answer, but think: you have to be aware of what is the routine, what is the daily. And most often perhaps it�s best to follow that, but sometimes you want to break with it: how do you do it? Well, we has to think creatively as a journalist: how do you package it, what is your rhetoric strategy? So, be aware of cookbook formulas, test the boundaries, try to think, see what happens.
If journalism doesn�t try new devices, and not just for the purpose of getting audiences, but actually communicating journalistically, it�s not doing it�s job, because it has to keep challening."
... to Global hopes
Finally, if we look at the media discourse in relation to the global processes in all areas, you can see a lot of negative factors, like, maybe a more commersialized news production. And perhaps one of the reasons that so many critics find it important to bring out some of the problems is that it�s to easy to fall into a type of rhetoric or discourse about the global, the one world, and so on, which can be so unrealistic. At the same time, we also can bring out positive effects of this globalization process, for the role of the media, and the way media is presented and received.
Now I hear that voice again:
"I think it�s very evident that the spread of the popular global journalism news, say, if we look at CNN, at some of the things that you can get in the newspapers, and so on, does convey a sense that 'we are on this planet together', and you see the interrelationships. If people�s identities are not necessarily becoming global, or sort of mega-regional, at least their awareness of the interrelatedness of economics and environment, and so on, has risen considerably over the past decades as the result of the media.
And then the whole other aspect, of course, is the popular, say, popular culture, through music consumtion, lifestyles, and so forth. At some level the culturally familiar is good, because it breaks down this sense of distance, and allow interaction, which then can grow into more serious levels.
So, I by no means wants to present a view there globalization is a failure or negative thing. I mean, it�s a question of what aspects of it do you want to talk about, and are those aspects in themselves successful or not, and is it a good thing if they are successful? Now, many people will say, for example, that it�s not a good thing that you are getting a homogenized sort of cultural consumtion around the world, because they feel that local cultures are being eroded in this kind of global consumerist culture that the media are spreading. Well, one can argue about that. So, I mean, there are pros and cons, and I think you have to sort of come to terms with it yourself, how you feel about it!"
Me? I feel great! I�m back in business again.