Rant or Reason

A few months back I spent some time lambasting political talk radio for its lack of definition and substance.

Since I am curious about how modern media conducts the political circus, I cycle between Washington's sycophantic 'yearbook committee,' National Public Radio, and the left-of-the-dial talk radio ranting of various liberal personalities via AM and satellite radio.

I criticize NPR, but not for lack of substance. NPRs adherence to think-tank wisdom gives it credibility, but also slants its coverage with a predictable and often myopic focus. Mainstream journalism like NPR, despite its adoration for Washington insider politics, does try to infuse its news with context and narrative. Some of it is dry, and some of it is extremely self serving, but it's substantive, and that's a lot more than I can say for talk radio.

Talk radio, in fact, is the scourge of rational, sane discussion.

More often than not, talk radio breaks down in to a series of nationally syndicated podcasts by individuals expressing emotional outrage at the news items of the day. There is nothing wrong with this, but its unreasonable to consider talk radio a news source. Anyone who uses the medium to get all their information - as many people do - have to hear stories held hostage on account of irrelevant minutiae, by the personality of the host, by his or her constantly intruding ego. The stories, filtered through all this flack, become meaningless.

When it comes to political talk radio, the left and the right both do it. No one side has more integrity. They're all bad. This sort of talk radio - circus entertainment masquerading as a discussion of the issues - gives me a greater appreciation for the dry platitudes of NPR, and even publications like the Financial Times, the conservative Wall Street Journal, and the Economist or Atlantic Monthly. I've a Mother Jones reader myself. For anyone looking for substantive education on the issues, they're all an antidote for talk radio, which remains vacuous.

In regards to improving 'conventional journalism,' I'd argue for the evolution and advancement of the staid newsroom into something with the dynamism of twitter but the integrity of old guard journalism. The recent documentary film Page One: Inside the New York Times addresses this issue head-on. I am not a journalist, so I don't know what it's going to take, but there has got to be a way to diversify the news, the way its imparted, the perspectives it covers, the discussions it spawns in all corner of the country, without letting it devolve into the anarchic echo chamber of Talk Radio.

I'll leave you with this final thought. Fixing the institutional dysfunction of the media is not just dependent on the media's willingness to change its approach. It's not that simple. The very institutions that journalists cover (Government organizations, think tanks, corporations) are going to have to be willing to evolve the way they do business with journalists and willing to shift that dynamic. It is, after all, a two way street. How this gets done is, thankfully, not up to me.


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