Among social circles there are generally always Centres of Attention. They might be individual persons; or a team; or they might be an activity; an event; a programme; a hobby or an interest; there are always focal points on which human attention is directed and concentrated.
In the newspapers and on TV and Radio there are topical issues which are focal points for the time being. Focal points which are held up by media as the points of interest at the present time. Someone, somewhere, perhaps editors or programme producers; are the persons who make such calls, such judgements; on what is or is not topical and as they say ‘in, or else not in, the public interest’. Thus for those of us who seek to keep abreast of ‘what is going on’ and who stay loyal to traditional media in order to discover this; we are placing our faith and trust and commitment of faith in these persons who have in their power carte blanche to set agendas for us for news, views, and issues.
I say carte blanche because yes, something like a human tragedy of momentous size of course has the primary place in all such agendas on the day it occurs; and regardless of other news. There remains however a large tranche of news which is to be weighed for its newsworthiness or otherwise by such arbiters of what we are to hear or read in their media outlets.
These persons are self-appointed; in that they have risen up through their organisations to the positions in which they balance and weigh these decisions of theirs; to positions which have power to make or else not make the news, the views, the issues.
In a democracy what other way of appointing such arbiters migh there be which might be considered more suitable?
Yet it remains that what is selected as worthy to run with as news etc; by its very nature affects the news agenda in the same way any other human choice affects a situation; that is, once a story or a view or an issue is ruled in as being sufficiently newsworthy to run with; some other issues stories etc have necessarily to be ruled out, unless more space or time is allowed the media agenda as a whole.
Of course none of us is wise enough always to get it right – what is the definitive news on any given day; because for instance some stories might be dropped which inadvertently and without warning might later ‘blow-up’ into huge items and issues. The emergence of Ebola virus a year or two back was such a story which suddenly ‘took off’ in the news only some time after the virus itself was known to have been quite virulently infectious and going from human to human by close proxinity and by contact.
How does an ordinary person discover whether a news and views media outlet is ‘doing reasonably well’ in its role of supplying her or him the stuff which is the real Macoy and in not missing tricks by not supplying stories and views which would have been crucial for her/him to have known something about?
The selectors of what goes into or does not go into our in-common news and views agendas are entrusted with an autocratic power by the citizens who read and listen to what they say with a good faith; and it is an huge power to have at one’s fingertips.
I do not know but I do believe that there is no published statement by these arbiters of news and views on the criteria they each assume and by which they presume to select news and views to broadcast or to publish. The guy or gal or is it guys or gals behind the scenes at the BBC for instance and whose job it is to select what are to be the news headlines of the day or of the hour and the pecking-order of that same batch of newsworthy headline stories; such persons are anonymous and backroom; we do not know their names, nor their provenances; their sources; the principles upon which they sift stories which come onto their desks during the day and night and day after day. All of this inside-knowledge is dark to an ordinary listener of say BBC News bulletins; and so what an enormous act of almost blind faith that ordinary listener is placing in that set of persons. It’s ‘Auntie’ BBC after all, and maybe for many listeners and viewers the questionmarks hanging over these news stories and their presentation to us are never conscious in the mind or raised therein as reasonable questions.
The exact case applies equally to newspapers and to other news and views and issues outlets and publications; although we as persons will gravitate towards those outlets and publishers whose comment and stories are most sympathetic to our own views and concerns. And is not this the principle of human interest at work in fact; that persons accessing news and views media gravitate to the stories and views they most prefer to listen to and read?
But here we are then in a cleft stick. Because:
a) If we hear and read only what we want to hear and read are we getting anything like truth?
b) Are we being reinforced in our views and so encouraged to become entrenched in them to an exclusion of holding a more liberal balance
c) Who is pulling and pushing who?
i) The news and views outlet is pulling and pushing its readers/listeners – telling them what to think?
ii) The readers and listeners are the ones pulling and pushing the news and views media?
(Of course, with c) it’s a feedback loop going on; the pulling and pushing done by the media outlet can only go as far as the the loyalites and views of their readerships/listeners will accept before these audiences will walk away from that media outlet. The pulling and pushing done by the listeners/readers can only go so far because so much of the information they receive from their media outlets is in the hands of the media outlets to provide as they see fit to their listeners/readers; their audiences. Knowledge is power and lack of knowledge is lack of power. The newsy part of any publication/braodcast; that which is the generally agreed upon by all media outlets as being ‘the facts’; which occur at the root source of the news story and embellisment is published around it; this ‘the facts’ is in the first place only in the hands of the media outlets; and it is their privilige and prerogative, assumed and not earned or endowed, to spin it into stories which attempt so they would say to ‘explain’ ‘the facts’.)
Thus any relationship between a reader/listener and his/her chosen media outlet is always going to be inherently unequal; the media outlet always holding the Ace cards of information and of opportunity to add an angle to that information. The listener/reader has a simple choice; believe it or not; walk or stay faithful to your media outlets.
I have worked with a friend of mine who is a software developer over a course of close on ten years now; and together he and I have seen come and go all sorts of client customers who are wanting him to write software for them. Almost to a man (and woman) every client the two of us have worked with has been a relationship in which my friend the developer has ever ben firefighting so as to try has hard as he can (and I hope with my help) to keep relations at or to bring relations back to an equitable footing.
Simply put: in his busines the client has the money and the developer has the skills; the client has a choice which developer s/he opts for; the developer very often has far less choice about turning down works than does a client to go elsewhere. The client to a man (woman) will near always want to dictate the terms of any written agreement that might be drawn up. Most often the asumption of a client is that s/he has in some way bought the developer, and that the developer should be and act always at a client’s behest whatever happens – until of course soemthing goes wrong at which time the client will swiftly and without conscience, wash his/her hands utterly of holding the reins in the relationship. The client always wants control; and s/he always wants more than a mere number of hours of good quality work done time-efficiently.
Likewise the relationship of the listener/reader with the media outlet is also unequal. Not only are listeners/readers not given a general statement of principles and values (which on its own would be useless unless practiced by them, but at least discerning people would be able to judge whether media outlets live up to their own standards); in addition readers/listeners are to a greater or lesser degree ‘captive audiences’ – in that they have nowhere else – other than another outlet of the same ilk – from which to get their news and views. News is always all a one way traffic. Fed ‘downwards’ towards the listening/reading public. There are very limited interractions between the two parties elsewise than paying for a newspaper or else for a TV license. A letters page or a half hour weekly show. That’s it.
And I am absolutley convinced that unequal relationships between adults are ever a recipe for evils to creep in. When one person has power over another, the temptation to ride roughshod may not be succumbed to at first; but as the relationship progresses the prospect becomes ever more likely. This is because relationships of this order naturally deteriorate; and persons in them gradually come to distrust and to slight one another, until little good faith is left between them.
The governing engine of this inevitable deterioration is usually (in development work) the abyss which is always there between the clients’ busines goals and the developer’s professional and technical aims and necessities. In media outlets the governing engine of decline is perhaps the daily reinforcement of that perception held by them of the ease with which such outlets are able to sway and alter their audiences’ minds and views and so bat them around like puppets. Any media outlet would raise a great howl of angry protest at me for saying so; but yet their supposed principles are indeed corroded and made inefectual by their (mis)understandings of whom they might be in the wolld and of their assumed status and importance for themselves.
Indeed there is no evidence I can see of Christian Service in their attitudes; none of them show themselves as acting in any way which gives an impression that they are trying to be ‘the servant of all’ and so be the least person in the relationships they cultivate with their audiences. Instead we see them ‘Lord it over the people like the Gentiles do’ and so they become knowing and reputed as ‘pundits’ and ‘names to be reckoned with’ – on TV and Radio and in the newspapers. This of course is the hallowed career path and trajectory; which is again an application of the principle of self-interest; which in our world is considered a reasonable personal aspiration.
Yet the isssues of human interest and of self-interest are pretty much synonymous in the vocabularies of our media outlets. A large part of the puppetry played upon the ordinary citizen, the string -pulling, by the media outlets is now, and has become so over the past thirty or so years, possible because of that slide in which these media have colluded iand which coalesces, elides, self-interest with human interest and as all the news and all the views and all the issues.
Ours has become a society wherein it is wholly and soley acceptable, legitimate, encouraged, colluded in and condoned; that one as an individual; as a family; as a group; may with all justification consider one’s own interest entirely and exclusively as one’s proper field of concern and scope of action in one’s life. Never before has so much encouragement of the ordinary person to ‘look after number one’ exclusively and utterly been propagated and force fed to a people.
The media outlets have played no small part in this state of affairs becoming actual , and thus to be our burden to bear; our legacy; and the cause of our present and ensuing decline as a people and as a nation; as a democracy and primarily as a country once honoured to believe itself based on Christian principles.
One expects the business community to offer “sweeties and toys” to their publics, their customers, so as to get them to buy their goods and services. These are the lures of Mammon. Public Service bodies, which media outlets are, whether they are in private or in public hands, have less reason to chase after Mammon upon a spree for riches; and they also presume to have standards which are upright and ethical. Yet that ugly and despicable ingratiation-with-their-readerships/audiences which bears a hidden ‘sugaring of pills’ for covert use in ‘social engineering’; all this has been aimed at turning us British into a nation comfortable with overmany self-assured knowing-best, crowd-pleasing media outlets.
This article is also posted at our anomalist design blog: http://blog.anomalistdesign.com/centres-of-attention/
You can find this article at my linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/centres-attention-matthew-raymer