What exactly is the “mainstream media?”
This week I attended a panel discussion at Stanford University with the clunky title, “Dare to struggle, dare to win: Grassroots activists on the decades long fight to end police brutality and mass incarceration.” It was a fascinating discussion of what many in the audience believe is a prison-industrial complex designed to punish people of color.
Many of the presenters were inspiring and it was led by dream hampton, who is an icon of the hip-hop world as well as a filmmaker and activist. These weren’t merely complainers; they were powerful activists who are doing good work in the community.
More than once, someone on the panel made a knowing reference to the complicity of “the mainstream media.” You could see the heads nod in agreement in the crowd. Perhaps it is only normal and somewhat fitting that the Fourth Estate take its lumps along with other institutions in the country when it comes to upsetting those who would upset the apple cart. Many media companies do have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.
I asked someone in the audience what she thought of when she thought of the mainstream media, and she said, “You know, Fox News.” I told her I worked for a small weekly newspaper that I considered mainstream. She assured me I wasn’t part of the problem and I thanked her for that. Then I told her that, for my money,big regional newspapers in places like St. Louis and Baltimore were doing important work covering all aspects of the current civil rights movement. Does she consider those newspapers part of the problem?
“Well, I haven’t seen that kind of reporting,” she said. …
I don’t doubt that a bit. Here was an intelligent, thoughtful young person attending an event like this at one of the most prestigious universities in the country and she was admitting to not reading the news. She is not alone, friends. Many, many people get their “news” from their Facebook feed and take it at face value.
So how do we combat this sort of nebulous complaint about the mainstream press when it comes from smart people who just believe in their bones that “corporate” media (as opposed to what, exactly?) is part of the problem rather than the solution.
If I knew, I’d be doing a better job of it. For one thing, we have to go where the people are. That means participating on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere. We have to talk to people who don’t look like us. Interviewing the police captain at the scene of trouble isn’t good enough. We have to give context. Is all of Baltimore in flames, or just a single intersection? We have to be open to the argument that we can always do better.
Look, TV has its issues and that is what many people mean when they reference “mainstream media.” We all know that riots and fires and wars make for compelling, easy television. Just point a camera and roll. Understanding community activism requires journalism. Full portraits of fully fleshed-out Americans can be found in the mainstream press. Consider, for instance, the short documentary on the New York Times homepage at this writing.