No News is New News


Perhaps I’m a moron or naïve or close-minded or all of the above, but the way the so-called news operates never ceases to confound me.  I think about the world — all the things happening, all the things that could possibly be reported on, written about, discussed – then I look at newspapers, TV news shows, Yahoo headlines and, lo and behold, they all report the same things. How is this even possible?  What are the chances?  Is it all an endless coincidence?

The answer, I suppose, is obvious.  So-called reporters, like every other profession, have developed routine modes of operating.  And this seems to predominantly involve going to government press conferences.  So of course they all cover the same “stories.”

Now, perhaps there is a beautiful, avant-garde way to interpret this — each story, Rashomon-like, is splayed and multiplied, each story a Cubist painting.

But that’s a generous read.  The fact is, there is a conspicuous lack of critical public discourse. Sure, there are plenty of Op-Ed pieces, radio talk shows, cable news hours that pretend to proffer critique.  But it is always so familiar, so canned, so canny, so pre-determined.

Jon Stewart tries to add a critical voice to the mix, a voice of reason amidst the madness, but he doesn’t offer fundamentally new takes on things, new language to make sense of the world.   His is a welcome voice but not a radical voice — and by radical I don’t mean radical politics, I mean radically different, fresh, new, surprising.

The very way we think about issues comes framed to us by the news culture.  These frames generally involve given dichotomies — left wing/right wing, blue state/red state, liberal/conservative, pro/con.  But the issues of the world demand greater nuance, a willingness to embrace the complexity, the ambivalences if not the multivalences.

In fact, I want to say that these very simple, oppositional frames in which we think are the very source of so much of the violence and stupidity that reigns supreme — and that counts as news.  It’s all this oppositional thinking — us vs. them, liberal vs. conservative — that creates hostility, fosters war and bigotry and violence. It’s an unsettling, self-perpetuating cycle.

There are some critical voices.  I, for one, like The New Yorker. Now, The New Yorker may seem stuffy and bourgeois but that is only from the perspective of a pre-canned dichotomy, an established frame of class analysis.  The fact is, The New Yorker writes with great depth, breadth, and complexity about issues that are thrust univocally on us by the rest of the media.  It shatters the illusion of simplicity by proliferating perspectives — and embracing complexities.

There are, no doubt, tons of independent blogs and news sources that offer true critique.  Thought Catalog is one of them.  And perhaps this interweb of ours will finally serve to slay the beast of simplicity, ushering in a veritable chorus of voices, each singing a different tune and it will be a glorious thing to hear.

In the meantime, this is my suggestion.  The federal government should have its own news voice — a newspaper, blog, TV and radio show.  They can relate all the so-called news.  This will put an end to the press conference and the news industry will have to actually find news, actually do some investigating, some thinking, some reporting.   For now, I think that the only way to have a free press, one that is critical, one that invents different ways to approach events, one that actually presents something new, is to have a state-run press.