Media Alternatives and the Definition of Insanity

“Because the media…”

It’s the biggest catch-all we’ve got. It doesn’t matter what the topic is or who exactly is speaking on it. When in doubt, say something to the effect of “blame the media.”

Within the last four days, it’s been damn hard to argue against casting such blame on the media, or rather, Big Media. This is especially undeniable due to Big Media’s coverage of the Freddie Gray protests, the incredibly inane White House Correspondents’ Dinner (aka “nerd prom”) and the contrast in discussions of anonymous transgendered persons versus that of Bruce Jenner. Not to mention the chaos that ensues when you mention reality stars, certain football players, a boxer who has a history of violence beyond the ring or media personalities themselves whose integrity is questioned with each passing day.

At this point, pick a topic and predict the responses. If it’s an entertainment story, the loudest voices either scream “who cares?” and claim some sort of agenda by a shadow party to make this “a thing” or write a thinkpiece in the comment section that goes beyond what the subject is in the first place. If it’s a “hard news” story (or as you may call it, a story about real shit), the legitimately aggrieved will plead for a witness while the unaffected, but offended will try to verbally shoot them down. If it’s sports? Don’t get me started.

No matter the story, the way the copy is read or spoken in a code that will illicit a response to fan some flames. From the moment that code is registered in someone’s mind, the truth that lies between the lines is probably lost. Why? Because no matter what the rest of the words or visuals may tell you, the carefully selected codes have connected to a person’s confirmation bias. And if there’s anything we are more prone to with our use of social media, it’s interpreting a few out-of-context photos and edited YouTube clips to fit our perspectives into a box.

Confirmation bias exists because members of typecasted demographics salivate like Pavlov’s dog and predicably react first instead of think. The seemingly non-stop coverage of an event persists because either the batteries on the remote just died and no one really wants to change the channel or your once-trusted source for information is going through an elongated slump. The panels and roundtables and studio desks have gotten louder and have far less actual insight than the top billing their seats at those tables give them.

This will always be as appropriate as it will always be funny.

This will always be as appropriate as it will always be funny.

Here’s the thing; THAT AIN’T NEW!

We’ve known and seen this for generations, yet there’s this strange belief that this is some new phenomenon. We say “and the media nowadays” and the like as if a) all media acts the same way – which isn’t true (but it sure feels that way), b) our social media feeds are the absolute barometers of what “everyone’s talking about” – which is most definitely not true and, c) as if the public really trusted what’s reported by Big Media to begin with.

What makes it stand out in 2015, however, is that the alternatives to Big Media keep popping up left and right thanks to some barriers of entry being cut down, if not entirely demolished. Social media plays a major role in the amplification of smaller media voices, but long before Twitter and Facebook became virtual watercoolers, webhosting and blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress actually provided inexpensive means for independent media personalities to share news and stories.

The biggest gripe I’ve had with “blaming the media” is that it was far easier to do when alternatives were few and far between. Although few of the alternatives of the day don’t have the single financial might of those we constantly blame, they’ve made enough of an impact where they’re impossible to ignore and have become vital. Name the subject and something exists to tell you either the full truth or a story that’s not given a larger light.

A site such as Raw Story exists for a reason as it does the best it possibly can to feed the need for news without favor or discretion, and has done so largely on the strength of Twitter and strong media influencers. Over two decades, VICE – with some Big Media funding, believe it or not – has grown from a print magazine born in Montreal to a force to be reckoned with in news, art, sports and more (though not without controversy). Multiple outlets with focuses on concerns of ethnic communities such as The Root continue to attract audiences as the missteps of larger outlets come under greater scruitiny. With its own financial heft, Al Jazeera decided to take a huge risk in creating an American news channel, knowing that its global image is in contrast to perceptions of the company here in the States. There are multiple freelancers and independent media outlets that do yeoman’s work to get the word out on stories of interest. Even online media companies with significant venture capital funding such as Mic can shed light on a story you may have missed because it didn’t neatly fit ongoing larger storylines.

While none are going to be perfect in coverage of the stories that matter most to us, what they provide is a lens that can contrast and at times, compliment what we see from Big Media.

Perhaps we don’t actually want the alternatives, though. Think about all the time spent whining about what some places do and hoping they would change. For every person or vehicle we criticize, there are plenty that can fill the need, but we don’t support them as we like to believe we do. I’ve made this mistake as much as anyone, but for personal and professional sanity, I learned to not waste my breath on pointing out the failings of FOX News, MSNBC and CNN, the editorial issues at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal or the unchecked radio market dominance of iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel).

So, ask yourself some important questions here.

Are you absolutely willing to continue to seek out these alternatives to the coverage that angers you?

Are you adding those great sites to bookmarks or selecting other news networks as favorite channels on your cable guides?

Are you actually taking the information you have been given – seeked out on your own or had thrown at you by others – and really analyzing it to understand what’s going on?

Are you seeking A truth as you’re being told, A truth as your bias wants it to be or THE truth as it actually is?

It really doesn’t matter what party flag you wave each election season, the teams you root for, the shows you watch, the demographics you identify with or the media outlets you gravitate to on a daily basis. You have have more choices than you think. Complaining about “the media” – Big Media, really – while continuing to consume the offerings from those very outlets you’re mad about is the absolute definition of insanity.

Related: John Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles Got It Right with the Freddie Gray Protest (The Sports Fan Journal)

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