I’ve been thinking a lot about Junk Media lately. I even thought I might have coined the term until I learned that Ed R. Taylor, among others perhaps, got there first. Turns out there is even a JunkMedia website which, paradoxically, is the exact opposite of its moniker’s connotation.
Maybe that’s the point.
In any case, it seems fair to say that growing numbers of us are realizing that Junk Media poisons our minds, souls, society, culture and democracy in many of the same ways that Junk Food poisons our bodies.
Junk Media is the electronic equivalent of Junk Food. In fact, it’s even brought to us by many of the very same giant corporations. We all know about Junk Food, how the purveyors of all that fried, greasy glop appeal to our most basic and primal appetites and then sicken us for profit.
Junk Media works the same way. We see it in particularly bold relief in the avalanche of provocation and prevarication that passes for journalism these days. Take, for example, Fox and CNN and the other major cable news networks, almost all of which now routinely twist and sensationalize the news. Why? Because audiences are fragmenting and these commercial news networks, with their old top-down model that requires huge audiences for the economics to work, are locked in an increasingly desperate scramble for survival and market share. In response, they do anything they can to grab eyeballs. And all too often that means dishing out more and more Junk Media.
We all know how the Junk Food pushers grab us by our stomachs with all that unhealthy salt, fat and sugar. The pushers of Junk Media serve up similarly toxic fare only in their case it is aimed at our brains. It’s what I have long called “rubber-necking journalism,” something I always told my editors I did not want to do. Rubber-necking journalism attracts eyeballs by exploiting the same human instinct that leads motorists to rubber-neck at accident sites. We are all curious beings. Our eyes unconsciously focus on movement. We want to see the crash, the injuries, the spectacle, the explosion. The Junk Media pushers understand those instincts and exploit them for profit.
I keep telling my friends that the real problem with mainstream media (MSM) is not that it is biased, as so many people contend. The truth is different parts of the MSM carry all sorts of different biases. The bigger problem is the currently operative economic imperative in the MSM broadcasting industry itself. That imperative compels MSM broadcast news operations to do virtually anything they can to attract as many eyeballs as possible. In the process, many of these outlets have discovered that it is often hard to draw a big crowd and tell a complicated truth at the same time. So instead, they feed us Junk Media. The Vicious Crime of the Week, the Presidential Election as a Horse-Race, the Middle East as a Gas Station, all sandwiched in between fetching commercials for Giant Sugar Crusted Burgers. It’s not about giving the average person the news and information they need to live a better life or build a stronger community. It’s about drawing the biggest crowd, and doing that over and over again, no matter what it takes. And that is a recipe for a sick, poisoned in the head, society.
Fighting back against Junk Media is what my new non-profit 501c3 business venture, the Center for Media Change, Inc., is all about. I’ve been developing this technology-based project for the past few months with about a dozen friends, including the very talented local documentary filmmaker, Yoav Potash, and Apple MacIntosh software developer and open source leader Andy Hertzfeld, with additional support from a talented professional team of programmers and designers at Texity, based in Pune, India. The good news: we’ve figured out how to help the news media evolve in a more hopeful direction. And the first step will be a new tool to help us all kick the Junk Media habit. Stay tuned.