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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Upstream Media

Among misnomers, "mainstream media" begs for recognition: defined as the media of prevailing taste and opinion, it is yet employed, absent apparent irony, to describe the aloofness and disconnectedness of news outlets who happen to reach the widest audiences. As if circulation were the equivalent of assent. No one confuses the Los Angeles River with the Columbia just because they both reach the Pacific. Reach alone does not mark a thing's significance.

Don't take it from me. Take it from the so-called mainstream media itself. In a column about its new restrictive commenting policy on the issue of immigration, The Guardian grouses that prevailing taste is too "toxic," prevailing opinion too "racist," and so The Guardian, in subversion of the mainstream, emphatically will not represent it:
[Executive editor Mary Hamilton says] some conversations had become toxic at an international level – “a change in mainstream public opinion and language that we do not wish to see reflected or supported on the site”.
There you have it. If The Guardian is any longer "mainstream" in any sense; it is purely aspirational. Journalism, by these lights, is not a career but a calling; media not mainstream but a mission field.

Even then it might earn points for courage, except typically only the message is sent to reach the "lost," rarely the messenger, who enjoys the comfort of the newsroom, alike among likes. Consider for yourself: you might not be a Republican or a pro-lifer, but you're likely at greater risk of knowing one than is a "mainstream" journalist. You might not be religious, but you, more than a "mainstream" journalist, probably somewhere stumbled across the notion that Christians believe Jesus lives. You might not oppose Planned Parenthood, but you are likely moved to the belief, too irresponsible for a "mainstream" journalist to indulge, that videos exposing a federally-funded organization trafficking in baby parts are newsworthy. You might not be a climate "denier," but you stand a better chance than the New York Times editorial board of wondering why a "consensus" failed to predict a two-decade warming pause. And liberal-minded though you may be, you likely are unable to muster the estimable degree of equanimity and incuriousness of "mainstream" journalists to resist wondering the name of the religion the latest terrorist murdered in the name of.

If you're cynical, call it news-as-social-engineering. If you're sympathetic, call it responsible journalism. But "mainstream" media isn't mainstream.

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