What the media report only appears to be the sum of significant developments in our world.
Far from being everything that's going on, or even everything that's important, what appears in our news and other media is the end product of a vast process of winnowing down. For example, in our larger metropolitan areas, even crimes as serious as murders do not automatically make the news: they need a certain story value to engage an audience.
Much of the process by which real events are given the blessings of column inches or airtime is informal, even unconscious; and journalists themselves can be taken in by the process as much as the general public is.
Reporters, after all, tend to enter their line of work out of a desire to be part of "what's happening" on a broader or higher level than the rest of us. While Joe Hardhat knows what's going on at the construction site, Joe Journalist knows what's going on around town; while Alice Accountant talks to her boss and/or clients, Rebecca Reporter talks to the Governor or Senator. It's heady, intoxicating stuff. And it's all too easy to become hooked on the sense of being part of What's Hot, as opposed to What's Not.
But what's "hot" all too often turns out in the final analysis to be nothing more than what other journalists are talking about. Something is newsworthy because it's in the news. Why is it in the news? Because other reporters are talking about it. This introduces a significant element of self-referentiality into what our media present to us.
Sometimes the result is simply boring, uninspired, and essentially useless work.
For example, some of today's news organizations devote a considerable amount of their efforts to illustrate the trends identified by externally-produced story idea services, which come complete with cookie-cutter instructions on how to "localize" them. The net result can be a sameness in news coverage comparable to the sameness and interchangeability we find in shopping malls, with everything revolving around the same few established Name Brand Issues.
Sometimes the effects of media self-referentiality are more pathological.
(c) COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.