We Had To Kill The Media In Order To Save It
The fact that the best reporting on the Iranian election crisis is coming from Twitter and random comments from students inside the country is not necessarily a testament to the expansive power of new media but to the irredeemable failure of the old media. Robert Farley has a pretty good roundup that matches my experience on vacation yesterday, trying to find a few scraps of information:
So, I'm trying to find out something about what's going on in Iran, and on CNN I can watch a rerun of Larry King interviewing several gentlemen without shirtsleeves who apparently assemble choppers. On Fox Mike Huckabee is trying to explain why Jesus hates credit card relief. MSNBC is rerunning something about a prison in New Mexico. CNBC is evaluating whether college students should be able to afford Chanel tote bags.
Sadly, if the elections were not a planned occurrence we wouldn't have any media in the country at all. The major TV networks have almost no international bureaus anymore, pooling their resources in London and sending out correspondents to act as individual news gathering machines, one-man or woman networks without the benefit of producers or editorial desks. This allows for a bit more flexibility, but also flattens the landscape so that the news-gathering capabilities of established media differ in no legitimate respect from a native speaker with a Twitter account or a Facebook page. It's not that the tweeters have ascended into the media stratosphere, it's that the traditional media has descended into the depths.
A few national newspapers do seem to have decent reporting on the ground. And thanks to the Internet, we can access a good deal of information about the world from local sources. And some bloggers, like those at the National Iranian American Council and Tehran Bureau (until they were shut down, allegedly by a denial of service attack from inside Iran), are doing heroic work. I would highly recommend this post by Brian Ulrich, positing the entire enterprise as a military coup, with the Revolutionary Guard consolidating power. However, I think we all remember how the networks would pull away from programming for hours to cover international crises as they unfolded. There's clearly an attitude of indifference this time around, but that is as much budgetary as it is cynical. Television simply cannot cover the story anymore. And that's to the great disservice of the still-overwhelming mass of people around the world who depend on it for news and information. The triumphalism of those who would see the sorry spectacle of TV news shoved aside fails to account for the remaining digital divide in the country as well as the tendencies of a mass of people who are not likely to otherwise be reached. And they become more closed off to the world, more uncomfortable with opposing points of view, more clueless about international relations or foreign affairs. And there are clear dangers to such an environment of mass ignorance.
I don't really have a solution to this, but the paucity of the Fourth Estate in this international crisis just leaves me sad.
...To balance out this post with some respect for the organizing capability of Twitter, please wear green tomorrow in support of the reformers in Iran. Maybe Abbi Tatton will report on it!