left-wing media

A friend of mine received the following request for an interview from a radio news program, who wanted an expert to discuss the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Wanted someone who could explain to us if this appears to be an actual political movement or just hundreds of teens and college kids getting together to protest nothing in particular? Do they actually understand what they’re trying to protest?  Is there a difference between a political movement and a movement for social change?

From the outside, they mostly just seem to be a bunch of uninformed, unemployed losers without much of a grasp on what actually is going on in the Country and I wanted someone to help us and our audience understand what is going on.

It’s tough to take the media seriously when they are playing a right-wing Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer from the initial email.

7 thoughts on “left-wing media”

  1. Let me add a different view: Yes, there are some extremely biased reporters and stations. However, my experience is that most aren’t like that. What I have found is that most journalists really don’t know what to make of protest. If you are good at communicating, then you can even influence how it is reported. I’ve found a few times that my interview was rewritten into the main text of the article.

    Even with media that definitely have a political slant, they will often accurately report what I have said, even if they frame it ways I would not prefer.

    Therefore, we should take every opportunity to put our views out there and go with an open, if careful, mind.

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  2. My experience is that the “journalistic” field is bifurcated: there are some highly professional, careful, and thoughtful folks seeking to understand and explain what’s going on — and plenty of hacks like the one who contacted Tina. One question is whether it makes sense to talk to the hacks at all; if you do, you’re likely to be misquoted or taken out of context, if you don’t, the information isn’t out there at all!

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  3. I cooperate with the press most of the time. You do get some jaw-droppingly ignorant questions. Some of them are not politically biased, they are just incredibly ignorant. Some who start ignorant end up moving toward non-ignorance after you talk to them. Others, of course, stay where they started.

    I have talked to reporters who have already written the story and just want use me. They either tell me what they want me to say or they try to manipulate me into being a foil for what they want to say. But most of the time the reporters are trying to learn something and distill it for a deadline.

    The frustrating thing is spending an hour on the phone with a reporter and having it get turned into 1 skewed sentence. But that still is the game. Sometimes the long interviews turn into long features where you are basically the expert saying things your own way.

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    1. I agree that the format makes at least as big a difference as the slant of the journalist. For example, Andy Perrin’s appearance on “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” was my introduction to this Canadian show, and I was amazed how much Andy got to talk, let alone frame his own argument, relative to U.S. news/talk shows. It was impressive, and perhaps one end of the spectrum of control over the message.

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    2. Last week somebody from the student newspaper interviewed me for about 20–30 minutes and managed to distill my interview into the exact opposite of my meaning. Specifically, I was criticizing Facebook for (until recently) forcing you to have a single persona and gave numerous examples of why this is a bad thing. The write-up basically summarized this as saying “On the plus side, Facebook encourages you to have a unified self.”

      I found this much more frustrating than the more typical thing, which is to talk to somebody for 30 minutes and they only use one sentence, which was really common sense anyway and they wouldn’t need an expert quote for it but for the genre conventions of “objectivity” described by Tuchman.

      And yet as a dog returns to its vomit I continue to respond to these requests.

      On the other hand, I know a few journalists who I talk to fairly regularly and I think they’re great. I’m not gonna go fundamental attribution error and say that it’s just that these journalist friends of mine are especially talented, although I do believe that. Rather I think the main thing is that there’s something about the genre conventions of blogging and/or feature writing (self-selected topics, essay structure, flexible deadlines) that lets journalists use experts well and something about the genre conventions of beat reporting (inverted pyramid, “I need a quote for this paragraph”, “both sides,” story assignment by editors, tight deadlines) that make for a frustrating use of interviews.

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  4. It sounds like a lot of the experiences other commenters have is with print reporters. Not surprising, given that print employs a much larger reporting pool. I could go on at length about how newsrooms are organized and why reporters covering protests are disproportionately likely to make mistakes.

    Having spent years as a reporter, I think it’s very important for the interviewee to try and figure out what the reporter wants. If I am being interviewed, I would start by asking what the reporter’s deadline is after the reporter explains the story. If it’s that day, I know I’m probably being used for a few quotes at most, so I wouldn’t spend more than 10-15 minutes on the phone.

    It can be hard to figure out whether a reporter is biased in a particular way, but it’s easy to figure out whether a reporter is out of their depth. If a reporter got handed a story they don’t understand, I would try to get the reporter to acknowledge it during the interaction, then offer to help them out. When reporters are given something they don’t understand but try to stumble through, that’s when they are most likely to make mistakes. Gabriel, it sounds like you went through a nasty bout of that (if it makes you feel better, the other professor in the story was also misquoted).

    Tina’s friend got a request for a different kind of interview – a live interview directly broadcast to the audience. It’s difficult (at best) to compare interviews broadcast for a live audience to other news interviews. For the average newspaper reader, a reporter’s performance as an interviewer doesn’t matter. We see the final story, but the interview occurs “backstage” (to borrow from Goffman). Live radio interviews have a backstage as well. The tone of the e-mail sent to Tina’s friend is cintextualizing what the on-air interview would be like, but the radio host may not repeat those words on the air. Critically, in a live interview the interviewer’s questions are a part of the front stage performance. Since radio hosts tend to be rewarded for projecting a persona into the interview, it may not be the easiest format for your friend to get a word in edgewise.

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