News Worthless

September 23, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

As an activist, I experience a kind of love/hate relationship with the news.  I am both attracted and repulsed by what appears through the various avenues of information distribution.

The news drives protesters into the street.  Protests draw cameras.  What cameras see affect public opinion.  Public opinion can change an elected official’s vote.

I am attracted to the news because it offers organizers leverage to frame debates and compel the population to get involved.  Modern organizing is partially about lists and relationships.  Email lists provide access to many people at one time.  Social networking–real time and online–drives friends and colleagues to respond to a single event at once.  A news story can be the beginning of a chain of powerful connections over time that, when strung together, create a movement of people creating change.

A news story is not just about the response it causes and the change that it can help bring about.  The story is also about the relationships created between activists that will form the foundation for future action around future items in the news.

An organizer watches and listens closely to the news, observing the response of media and allies to the news, intuiting what will move activists and local residents to action.  I know activists that engage almost exclusively in this media surveillance, doing little else.  Their contribution is essential.  It is consuming.  There are people with a talent for this monitoring.  I’m not one of them.

Watching and listening to the news, I become caught up in the parallel world of nonstop horror accompanied by voyeuristic complicity.  Viewers are encouraged to feel helpless in a number of different ways, guided to not respond to what they see on screen.  I feel angry at what the editors have chosen to reveal to me about the world.  I feel appalled at the conclusions that the professional opinion holders suggest to us are a reasonable response.  I feel distressed by the underlying assumptions or presuppositions that encourage us to feel helpless.  I feel disgusted by how little attention is given to underlying causes, suggesting that having an effect is outside our power to make a change.

I watch the commercials.  Watching commercials is like observing a list of human biological compulsions accompanied by recipes for how to motivate people to change.  People are being called to action, to spend their money.  It’s the only place on radio and TV where people are being asked to do something.

I respect the activists that can tolerate frequent exposure to what the media create.  I’d be a better organizer if I could pay close attention to what’s happening in the news.  For now, I’ll continue to listen to my friends.


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