For people who criticize the media

The next time you complain about the media, particularly if you make statements like "the media sensationalizes" or "the media is only concerned with sex and gore" ask yourself whether the problem is really with the fact that you only read or you only remember those sensational stories and skip over the important stories about foreign wars, local corruption, taxes, domestic policy, local and national and foreign elections -- and ask yourself if you make an effort to find those stories. Considering how many articles are written in newspapers each day, even in some of the daily tabloids, why aren't you reading those stories as well? (The "sexier" stories, the cute pets, and the celebrity interviews have their place because at least they lure readers to a newspaper or magazine that also might be reporting on more serious matters.)

Obviously some tabloids focus exclusively on sensational stories and headlines, and outlets like TMZ focus on celebs and gossip. But if that's the only media you read and you don't also read more important stories (you can find them in almost every publication if you actually look), and you never would write a letter or e-mail a news tip, you lose the right to complain. When was the last time you searched the internet to see what the New York Times had filed lately about unrest in Nigeria? Do you know how many journalists are held hostage in other countries right now because they cared about the important stories, and is anything being done?

Here is a story filed this morning about the media you criticize:

Respected American war reporter Marie Colvin, who covered conflicts from Sri Lanka to Syria and stood up for the importance of independent journalism, died in a shelling attack in Syria on Wednesday. She was in her 50s.
...Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times for the past two decades, making a specialty of reporting from the world's most dangerous places. She lost the sight in one eye during an ambush in Sri Lanka in 2001 — but promised not to "hang up my flak jacket," and kept reporting on the world's most troubled places.
"So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night," she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack. "Equally, I'd rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.

Before you say she's an exception, she's not -- there were 6,580 daily newspapers in the world five years ago, probably fewer now, but still many more than whichever one you don't like. I would guess there is something being reported on right now in your statewide or local paper that may look innocent or boring on first glance, but you should pay attention to it and respond to it so that others will notice it as well and push for change. Maybe there are stories you're ignoring because you don't think they affect you personally or help your favorite candidate; I've seen journalists write stories that should have gotten people up in arms and protesting -- and nothing happened. Nada. Zip, because no one had a personal interest at the time. It might be something as seemingly insignificant as a story listing the items that your local budget is paying for, or about terrible treatment of immigrants being held in detention centers for spotty reasons. Instead of making up wacky conspiracy theories about the "media," you might pay attention to the media that is working, and even look more closely at any papers you criticize to see if there are still some articles that are worthwhile. There are all types of media in the world just like there are all types of people. If you'd rather stick to reading sensational stories, that is perfectly fine -- but then don't complain.

And finally, keep in mind that there is a practicality to the media; a kid who gets out of college and has to pull his weight writing obits or police beat items may not have the time that two journalists had forty years ago to dedicate themselves only to tracking down Watergate...however, investigative stories will still happen; they rely on the public to give tips and ideas, not to just sit back and claim that there are lots of evil things going on and why isn't "the press" reporting on them. Even Woodward & Bernstein had Deep Throat slipping them details. And DT didn't sit in his office griping that the media must know something was wrong in the Nixon administration and just wasn't writing it. Instead, he pointed the duo in the right direction. A newspaper's job is not to write that Politician X seems like a jerk just because you think he acts corrupt, but if you can point out why or at least give suggestions for places to look, do it and be patient while facts are gathered and real inquiries are made so a solid story can land in print or on the airwaves. If you see something, say something. Work with journalists, not against them.

Chuck Klosterman made a great point once that I can't find online (I'll have to get my hands on his book so I can quote it accurately), but it was something like this: "Journalists have no time to manufacture consent when they're chasing down the latest police report." Instead of overthinking what's not there, look at what IS there and suggest what more you'd like to see.


How teens communicate

There's a detailed story in last week's New Yorker about the Tyler Clementi case. It goes into more depth than a lot of articles about it. You can read it yourself and learn more about what was going on in each student's mind, but another thing that comes out of it is just how much of teenagers' lives is on-line these days. Dharun Tweeted various things to his friends about his roommate, and Tyler searched for it and read it all pretty quickly. Both boys used to web to find out things about each other before they moved in together, and Tweeted, texted, or Instant Messaged stereotypes to friends. Tyler told a friend that his future roommate was "Azn" and that "his rents defs own a Dunkin" (meaning his parents definitely own a Dunkin' Donuts). Ravi Tweeted that his future roomie was gay after finding posts of his on a gay chat board. Both of them used "defs" for "definitely." It seems that kids today will put all sorts of things on the web without assuming that anyone else can read it. Both boys seemed to speak the same universal language at times ("defs"). These kids who grew up with the internet and Facebook are defs a different generation.


Something I just read on the 'net

I just read this comment left by someone on the internet, in response to an Atlantic Monthly magazine article, and I thought it was worthy of reprinting:

"It takes full adulthood to appreciate that one's parents were simply human, often more than a little frightened, but who suppressed this in order to protect their children from that same fear, and in doing so became, however briefly and dimly, someone braver than themselves. As was said in 'Big' we are all 10 years old. Being a parent means you have to, have to, transcend that..."

So true. I pretty much thought my parents knew everything and could handle everything when I was growing up. Seeing them occasionally lose their cool, or be vulnerable, was the scariest thing in the world. I look back and see that they had me and my brother when they were 26 and 29 years old. How the heck did they really know what they were doing? They made mistakes, but it's hard to really blame them. What was the model for them to follow when, for instance, my brother had a learning disability? What did they know of that?

One thing I wish my mom hadn't done was be honest with my brother and me, when we were really little, about certain problems that were going on. Sometimes kids don't have to know everything. Sure, I want my kids to realize that life isn't perfect, but they also shouldn't have to worry about every little adult fear. I think I can be brave enough for that.

That said, there are still ways to capture your own youthful enthusiasm when you are an adult or a parent. I'm still a 10-year-old when I smell cookies baking. Give me cookies! Mmmmm!