Friday, January 24, 2014

What you should know about, vs. what the news tells you about

This meme is making the rounds on Facebook, with over eight thousand shares thus far.  It's a good creative idea in principle, but I think it's worth calling out what is so fundamentally wrong with this particular presentation.

Tap to expand.  This is the original version, uncredited.

In order to credit the maker and provide them with a trackback opportunity, I attempted to determine the origin of this meme, but my efforts were to no avail. Here's TinEye's analysis. Zippo.  
When one of my journalist friends shared the thing, I commented "They left (pun intended) an important one out of the "should know about" column: Why being co-opted by [mostly political] propaganda is no better than succumbing to the lure of junk culture."

My journalist friend then invited me to elaborate, which I proceeded to do in kind:
Tap to expand.  My version, off the cuff.  I added an attribution in case anyone wants to trace this one back to its source. 
The point of my version is to emphasize the following paradoxical truth:

If we take care of the little things, the big things have a way of taking care of themselves (channeling an old English proverb and a number of more contemporary like-minded sources). 

It does neither a person nor a community any good whatsoever for someone to devote time and energy to learning about some dissociated topic such as uranium depletion, especially when almost everything published on that subject has been sensationalized for the purposes of maximizing obsessive hand-wringing in the audience. 

If we instead devote our attention to community building, then we grow the energy, strengthen the moral principles, and enhance the tools that people require as prerequisites to doing things such as properly managing uranium, if they happen to be working in that specific capacity.

And while we're on the subject of what the commercial news media is and is not helping people to know about, might I remind everyone that what you see in any given newspaper bears only partial resemblance to what readers would like to see in that newspaper

For example, I mention faith-based organizations in my meme version above (and my definition of 'faith-based' is inclusive of all traditions, including humanist, agnostic, atheist, and polytheist).  I have another journalist friend, unaffiliated with the person who shared that original "should know" meme, who once told me that market studies consistently reveal that an *overwhelming* majority of newspaper readers want to see more faith-based content - not proselytizing, but objective information and reporting:  Who is out there, how do those groups define themselves, and what are they doing in and for the local community? 

But almost none of that type of content makes it into the average American metro newspaper - why??  Because advertisers are too afraid of being incorrectly associated with specific groups.  They don't want their ads to appear on the same pages as faith-based content because they think it would turn off and drive away readers who are associated with different faith-based groups. 

The key phrase there is "They don't want their ads to appear on the same newspaper pages as faith-based content".  There you have the kiss of content death, the reason why so little appears despite the fact that most people want it and would gladly pay for it. 

Fortunately, I don't have any advertisers to satisfy, so I can come right out and say things like that.  But we've still got a long way to go before folks cast off their uranium reality show celebrity divorce scandal addictions and start focusing on the importance of what's actually staring them right in the face.
Oh, look!!  It's a very non-dogmatic assertion, very benign and most people would agree that it contains universal truth, but it still technically falls into the category of faith-based content because its author was a famous Unitarian Minister.  But fear not - no advertisements were harmed in the posting of this quote meme.

I can't do everything, but I can launch the occasional meme refinement and I can also call bullsh*t in some of those instances where it needs to be called.  And if everybody made tiny contributions in kind, what might the net result be?

Quote screengrabbed from this site

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