Lawrence Martin's piece is important because it demonstrates serious reflection on the role of the media, but it's also striking in it's singularity. Martin's piece is really the only substantive review of the state of the media in the election aftermath, and I find that both curious and disappointing to be honest. It makes one wonder if the medium can truly police itself, always a challenge because you are sort of poking yourself in the eye. The only reaction I can find, that even acknowledges the column, comes from Chris Selley who thinks Martin "very unfair, we think, to the reporters working hard under those circumstances". An interesting defence I suppose, but 99% of the critical subject matter that journalists cover also work extremely hard under the circumstances, so is that really relevant to the thesis? I mean, MP's work their asses off everyday, but people still find the time to scrutinize their failings, right?
Perhaps Martin offers a blanket assessment, which doesn't quite capture the excellent work of many journalists, the great insights and principled perspectives of certain columnists, but beyond generalizations, he makes an almost self evident point which deserves further reflection:
But today there appears to be less independence in the media, less sense of outrage at abuses of power. Journalists of the baby boomer generation who were anti-establishment back then are old and more passive now, co-opted if you like. And the business has changed. In the 24-hour news cycle, the pressure is to move on to the next story without due diligence on the one that just happened.
Much wonderment has been expressed recently on why stories of abuse of power don’t seem to hurt Stephen Harper’s government. The stories don’t stick, it is said. The reason may well be, to cite Mr. Thomson’s cautionary words, because we in the media don’t stick to them. It’s episodic journalism. We report one story, then move on. We don’t probe deeply. If a Watergate was happening, the public would never know it.
The key term for me is "episodic journalism", which entirely captures the present media state. Part of it is circumstance, part of it is dwindling resources, but the final product is really an attention span challenged media, that is now EASILY manipulated by shrewd political strategies. During the election, there was nothing more bizarre that listening to journalists express surprise that stories like the AG report didn't have legs, when it was really a testament to the fact the same journalists voluntarily moved on. Again, part of this reality isn't the medium's fault, consumers also have little attention span, we get bored quickly, we demand constant stimulation and rather than focus we multi-task. The media landscape is a fractured and instant affair, how that developed very much a chicken and the egg scenario.
Martin uses the words "passive" and "co-opted", which again may seem harsh, but in totality seems an apt description. You can discount observations as simply partisan, but I've watched Harper manipulate the media with amazement for years. Maybe it's a subconscious reverence for power, maybe it's sheer proximity and familiarity, a coziness, I have no idea, but with rare exceptions, any "attack" on the government is temporary and then countered. The idea of "balance" has caused the passivity, because every issue is reduced to equal time, no matter the absurdity or illogical assertions, all views are presented and the electorate is left with confused contradictions. It is here where the true manipulations can occur, you oppose any story with counter noise and leave a muddled mess, offering no clarity on anything. I will submit the F-35 story as the perfect example, absolutely NO credible counter to the cost issues raised, and yet most stories come with government defences and little "calling out", because that somehow denotes a "bias". The government was misleading Canadians on the cost of the F-35 planes, that is a fact and the FACT Canadians never quite got a clear airing on the issue, extremely disappointing and symptomatic of a larger problem.
The Liberals aren't they only entity that require some introspection and self analysis...