Why this site is called “Pornewsgraphy”

Given the provocative title on the site, a note of explanation is warranted.

Media bashing has been trendy for a very long time. While it has certainly gone to new heights in the age of Trump, it would be historically ignorant to suggest that this trend began in 2015 when Donald Trump came down the elevator in Trump Tower. Media criticism – and more specifically, criticism of news media and journalism – have existed for as long as journalism itself. In my lifetime, it became very trendy (and for some, very profitable) in the early 1990s with the rise of conservative talk radio. In the current environment, it would be understandable if somebody saw a website with a name like “pornewsgraphy” (or the closely related term that I also use – “pornolism”) and assumed that this is some right wing, Trump-supporting, “fake news’-invoking website.

PC: UNESCO Series on Journalism Education

But that is not the case. In the interest of full disclosure: I am a registered independent whose ideology could roughly be described as small-L libertarianism. I don’t like Donald Trump, and I’ve been saying so since the 1990s. (I grew up in New York and was exposed to him much earlier than most people.) Moreover, I don’t have any love for the leading politicians of the day on either side of the political aisle. In my view, ~90 percent of our political elites are disappointing, to put it kindly. As for journalism: If you’re talking about journalism as a profession or a calling, I hold that endeavor in the highest esteem, even higher than my own profession. Yes, I am a frequent and vocal (and at times, harsh) critic of individual journalists and journalism products. But I would analogize this to the way one views their family. You can love your family; you can hold your family in a cherished regard; but neither of those mean you should not speak up forcefully if you see members of your family doing things that are harmful to them and others. Substitute “your family” with “journalism” in the sentence above, and you’ll have a fair approximation of how I look at the field of news reporting.

So no, this site is not designed to bash media petulantly or in order to push a political POV. In my view, the problem with journalism in modern day America transcends politics…or at least, it should.

Like any human endeavor, journalism is not perfect. But these days, far too much of it doesn’t even try to be. This is especially if we are talking about political news media, arguably the most visible sector in that field. It is saturated in infotainment, sensationalism, naked partisanship, agenda seeking, and brazen distortion. As I argued in an earlier post, news media content continues to devolve to a point that it can be described as “pornewsgraphy” in far too many cases. And here’s the real problem with that – a democracy that does not have a reliable source of information that is reasonably objective and unslanted cannot survive as a democracy. So, while this site has and will detail incidents of journalistic malpractice, please do not misread the intention. My goal is not to bash journalism as a profession. When practiced reasonably well, journalism is one of the most important professions that exists in a democracy. The point of this website is to offer something that I don’t see in many other places – a non-partisan POV on how many who call themselves “journalists” are destroying the profession and hurting the nation in the process. Posts on this site have and will look at:

— How many journalists and news media figures, while not the “enemy of the people” that Trump often labels them as, are the enemy of good journalism.

— Examples of good journalism, as highlighting these are also important if the goal is to promote better journalism.

— What we as individual citizens can do to be smarter consumers of news media content.

On that last note: One of the areas of the site that I hope to evolve in the coming months and years involves potential solutions to this problem. To be perfectly candid, I do not have much hope for the problem being solved by the people in the news media themselves. There are simply too many factors pressuring them to practice journalism badly. Many of those factors are beyond their control, but one that is not is the profound level of denial among many journalists about how bad this problem. So, as this site continues to grow, one topic that I hope to write more on is news media literacy (NML). I will spare you a lengthy definition of NML here, but suffice to say that people with high levels of news media literacy are better able to seek, identify and use the good journalism that is out there. Consequently, they can better keep themselves informed despite the deluge of pseudojournalism that currently permeates the media.

One last point: I am in the late-ish stages of my dissertation on news media literacy. For that reason, it’s likely that I won’t be posting too much between now and early 2021. Sorry about that. However, once I am done, it is my hope that I will be able to provide useful content on a regular basis.

Comments, suggestions and other input are always welcome here via the comment function below as well as through the contact button at the top of this page.

The New York Times has jumped the shark

The “Old Gray Lady” is turning blue…code blue.

The once venerable New York Times – supposedly the nation’s premier newspaper – today published an op-ed calling for the harassment of low-level government employees as part of the ongoing immigration issue at the border.

Let that sink in. This is not some radical partisan ragsite like Vox or Infowars. It was The New York TimesAmerica’s “newspaper of record” did this.

image.pngThey provided a platform on their opinion pages for an open-throated call to identify, shun and – let’s be realistic here – harass ICE employees at all levels. The article specifically noted that “foot soldiers” (low-level employees) should also be targeted. The author – a humanities professor and attorney in the United Kingdom – claims she is not calling for doxxing. Apparently, she naively believes that her recommendation would not lead to doxxing, cyberbullying and perhaps even violence.

The author’s dangerous and objectionable suggestion is not what primarily concerned me, reprehensible though it was. The fact that such a reckless call to action could find sanctuary in a presumably responsible newspaper is what raised red flags. Is this what journalism and media at the national level in America has come to?

Multiple polls like this one show that Americans increasingly distrust media sources. Even polling that reflects modest rebounds still show an anemic level of trust in American news media. I would argue that this sentiment is both understandable and appropriate if we are talking about the national news media in America – i.e., national newspapers and the national news broadcasters. I would also include most online “news” sites in this assessment. (I still maintain that local journalism is a profession where reporters are producing a good product that gets it right more often than wrong. The “elite” in the national and online news media could benefit from emulating their local peers more often.)

And what has happened to make the media seem so untrustworthy? A number of factors are involved, but I would posit that a large part of the dynamic is financial. In an age where more and more pressure is placed on news media organizations and the journalists within them to turn a profit, standards seems to be increasingly giving way to an emphasis on website visits and social media engagement – i.e., “clicks” – which can be monetized vis a vis ad revenues. This might explain why a presumably responsible editorial board like the one at The New York Times would provide a platform for a de facto incitement to harassment and perhaps even violence. Then again, maybe they like what the author suggested. It is impossible to say.

Of course, op-ed columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial boards that approve them. But does the editorial leadership not ultimately decide what does and does not get space on their pages, digital and otherwise? Presumably, they have criteria and standards they apply to this decision-making process, and they don’t let just anybody argue their cases in their opinion section. Whether Times editors agreed or disagreed with the positions that this author took is immaterial. But do they actually believe that her commentary was responsible…particularly in the context of today’s hyper-polarized, tinder box environment? Or, has the need to drive clicks and revenue pushed even the Times to the point where such questions are secondary?

The column in question makes me wonder.

If this is the beginning of a trend, what is next? For example, I noticed recently that there is an emerging debate in and around the LGBT community about promoting children in drag. It came up several times in recent weeks during the Pride Month observance. (As with the immigration issue in the Times op-ed piece, I do not mention this to take sides on the issue of drag kids. Both issues are separate from the point of this blog post.) However, the drag kid controversy suggests an informative analogy here. While responsible newspapers and media outlets can and should provide a platform for commentary on both sides of the day’s issues, where should the line be drawn regarding what is acceptable fare? The reprobates at NAMBLA have been vocal on the drag kid issue. Would America’s newspaper of record offer a spokesman for that organization a byline on its pages? Until recently, I would’ve laughed at an idea like that. Now… I’m not laughing. Whatever else one could say about a NAMBLA-bylined op-ed in a major newspaper or outlet, it would unquestionably prompt a tsunami of clicks, social media buzz, and so on if it were allowed. And that seems to be the overriding goal in more and more of what the national and online news media do.

image.pngMost Boomers and GenXers know the origin of the phrase “jump the shark”. It stems back to an episode of the once-wildly popular ABC series “Happy Days”. Long story short – “jumping the shark” is shorthand for when a TV show starts engaging in desperate (and sometimes embarrassing) attempts to maintain its viability. Over time, this phrase has evolved for use beyond the small screen.

If today’s New York Times column is an indication of things to come, perhaps the Old Gray Lady and the editors at some other once-prestigious media outlets should start waxing their water skis.

 

Nurse unite…and the prognosis for free speech dims further

So, unless you’ve completely avoided the “news” this week, you have no doubt heard about the latest outrage du jour. The ladies at ABC’s “The View” were poking fun at a contestant on the Miss America pageant last weekend. Miss Colorado Kelley Johnson chose an unconventional approach for the pageant’s talent portion, and appeared on stage in her nursing uniform (scrubs and a stethoscope) and talked about her work with Alzheimer’s patients.

kelley-johnson-miss-colorado

The next Monday, the ladies on The View talked about the pageant and Ms. Johnson’s appearance. Comedian and co-host Joy Behar asked why Johnson wore a “doctor’s stethoscope.” Her colleague, Michelle Johnson, added:

“And she came out in a nurse’s uniform and basically read her e-mails out loud. And shockingly did not win. I was like, that (emphasis added) is not a real talent…” I think that anyone paying attention would realize that the “that” in Collins’ sentence was a reference to Johnson’s monologue (that is, her choice to talk about her profession vs. singing, dancing, etc.), not her choice of profession. After all, “that” was rather obvious given the context of the discussion.

Oh, did I just invoke context? Silly me! No one on social media cares about context any more (if they ever did). After all, considering context is time consuming and…well, hard! So (insert beleaguered sigh here), cue up the digital outrage machine! It’s morning in America again, and someone needs a hot, steaming cup of righteous indignation – facts and context be damned! And the #NursesUnite “movement” was born. I place movement in quotes because while nursing has been, is, and will continue to be a vital profession, the kerfuffle over the non-existent View slight will be soon forgotten in favor of whatever “controversy” next week’s offended group pushes on the rest of us. Said future outrage will, of course, be dutifully reported on/promoted by the 24/7 “All news that fits, we’ll print” media.

As the week progressed, the typical cycle ensued. The View hosts apologized, advertisers pulled ads, The View groveled further by hosting a show with nurses to demonstrate that they really didn’t mean what they didn’t actually say, etc. (BTW, the irony of advertisers supporting a move to quell speech is rich with irony, but that’s for a separate blog post.) And one more time, society’s collective free speech rights eroded. In the effort to ensure that people need NEVER be offended, people banded together once again to punish someone for something that they said. Actually, the people in question didn’t really say it, but let’s not quibble.

The point is, even if they did say something negative about the nursing profession, would this be the appropriate response? I’m not suggesting that in such a case, a response would not be warranted. Correcting inaccuracies – Behar’s stethoscope comment, for example – is absolutely appropriate and called for. But rather than seeing this situation as a chance for the initiation of a rational dialogue on a valid subject – i.e., the important role that nurses play in society – the collective response by those involved was primal – rage, boycott, cancel, crush, destroy, repeat.

A society that values such primal reactions over rational discussion – in fact, a society that revels in such inflamed discourse, and which has the digital means to engage in it at will – is a society that cannot sustain free speech. Paradoxically – since those engaging in the response would argue that they are merely exercising their free speech rights – the repeated beatdown of anyone who dares says something that offends a big enough, loud enough group ultimately discourages free expression. Have something controversial to say…or something that might be mistakenly seen as such? Better ask your self who is going to use it as a club on your head before speaking. Want to further an important, but unpopular, view? Hmm, can you afford to lose your job? Chilling thoughts like these and others, which are more and more necessary in today’s outrage-addicted culture, are poison to a society that claims to host the “marketplace of ideas and free expression.”

Two last points are important here. In that latter stages of the week, reports have surfaced alleging that Collins made genuinely disparaging remarks about nurses backstage after apologizing for the initial remarks. View guest Nicole Arbour (she the target of the previous week’s outrage du jour, stemming from her “Dear Fat People” video) says that after airing, Collins remarked that nursing was not a real profession, and that nurses were “wannabe doctors.” However, in considering these alleged remarks, it is important to note that A) They are alleged, not proven, and B) Even if they ultimately prove to be real, they don’t justify the reaction to the original remarks. The #NursesUnite movement was already blasting away by the time this supposedly happened. Or, would one argue that outrage/reaction can be retroactively justified? If so, that is a truly dangerous principle.

The second point is that, as some nurses note, the inappropriateness of the remarks is underscored by the fact that they were made as part of a dialogue meant to be humorous. The infusion of humor, the argument goes, is a sign of an underlying disrespect for the profession – i.e., “How dare you not take what we do seriously?!?” As noted above, such a reaction overlooks the context of the remarks. But let’s put the issue of context aside for the moment. If we accept that inappropriate humor argument and the condemnation/censure/punishment that goes with it, it means that were are endorsing a policy whereby certain topics are off limits to even the lightest of teasing/joking. If that becomes the case, who decides what is and is not an “acceptable” topic for humor? What groups become our “sacred cows?” I’m not arguing that there is no such thing as inappropriate humor in certain contexts. But when we, as a society, revel in the punishment and censure of anyone who dares to tell a joke that offends us, how can free speech endure? What ever happened to the liberty-minded ideal behind the quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” from Evelyn Beatrice Hall? (No, it wasn’t Voltaire who said it – it was Hall)

Speaking of comedy and quotes, comedian and radio host Jim Norton said something recently that is an apropos close to this. In his most recent special, “Contextually Inadequate,” Norton, himself no stranger to irreverent humor and the controversy it can generate, hit the nail on the head when he noted that people are mistaken when they say our free speech rights are being taken away. They are not being taken away.

We are giving them away. One outraged tweet at a time.

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UPDATE (Sept. 26): In rereading this, I noted that I inadvertently put words in Jim Norton’s mouth. His comments about society giving away their rights were more focused on privacy rights than free speech, though he did mention the latter in making his point. That said, given Norton’s many comments in recent years about the erosion of respect for, and the importance of, free speech, I suspect he wouldn’t take umbrage with my point above.

PorNEWSgraphy: It’s airing 24/7 in the Fourth Estate

In 30 years as a career communicator and public relations specialist, I’ve become a media junkie. I track developments in the media, particularly news media or the “Fourth Estate,” in the same way that some people play golf or follow their favorite college sports team. I suspect that many of my fellow “flacks” share a similar passion.

That said, I’ve grown increasingly dismayed in recent years about the ongoing – and accelerating – devolution of journalism in the United States. Trends like infotainment, sensationalism, “advocacy journalism” (an oxymoron, to be sure), and unapologetic political bias in reporting (thank YOU, Fox News, MSNBC and others) have made it difficult in the extreme to rely on national news reporting as a source of objective, accurate information. To be sure, there are still many good journalists out there who are eager to practice their trade in an objective, reliable way. The sad irony of this is that, in too many cases, forces beyond their control won’t let them.

Consider this alternate definition of “pornography” from Merriam-Webster.com:  “:  the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction <the pornography of violence>” (emphasis added). Applying the same cause-effect paradigm to the way most “reporting” nowadays is geared toward pathos (emotions) rather than logos (rational thinking), isn’t it fair to apply the term “porNEWSgraphyTM?” Given the dreck that spills forth daily from many of the new operations in America today, is the term unreasonable?

Meet the Press - Dana Carvey
NBC’s Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” discusses political impressions with comedian Dana Carvey. Apparently, it was a REALLY slow news week.

One does not have to look far for examples of pornewsgraphy. As I type this, NBC’s “Meet the Press” has just finished airing an interview with renowned statesman Dana Carvey regarding the impressions he does of George H.W. Bush and others. Yes, that’s Meet the Press – the iconic Sunday morning news program that has provided insights on key issues and access to world leaders since 1947 – acting as a promotional vehicle for “Saturday Night Live.” What’s next? Former presidential advisor David Axelrod juggling to promote his new book? New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand reading a few steamy passages from “50 Shades of Grey” before discussing women in the military? Apple CEO Tim Cook plugging PornHub as part of a discussion on online privacy and data breaches? Somewhere, Tim Russert is banging his journalistic halo against a wall.

In fairness, NBC and MTP are by no means alone in offering such pathetic fare under the guise of “news.” The aggregate total of this problem on a daily basis is stupefying, particularly in terms of its implications. Whether one looks at it from the vantage point of a communications professional, a journalist, or “just” a citizen, the long-term damage caused by the lack of a credible journalism industry is ponderous.

So, sit back and tune in to your favorite news program. Regardless of what network you watch, it’s bound to be “entertaining.”