Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hidden Stories

I tend to be suspicious of claims that the "Mainstream Media" colludes to broadly spike stories that are of particular interest to groups that see themselves as marginalized, in part because of that very marginalized status. A couple of days ago, I came across a breathless denunciation of the media for not widely disseminating the story of a Black lesbian who had been murdered. While it was a fairly heartbreaking case, in its details, that's all it was - yet another in a sad litany of violent crimes that happen all day, every day, across the United States. While it was the sort of thing that one might expect would headline the local news, it was difficult to see what a national audience would have found interesting about it.

And this is something that I commonly see in stories that people hold up as being covered up by the national media establishment. While they may be of intense interest to people in certain communities, they're often not much different than a thousand other stories that no-one outside of the local area in which they occurred ever hear about. There's nothing particularly unreasonable about the idea that news outlets will carry the stories that people find important, even if it's sometimes unrealistic. But in an attention economy, attention is valuable because it's limited. You could read about murders all day long and still be hard pressed to keep up with all of them. And there are other things that happen in the world that people are interested in.

The desire of the marginalized to have their stories, and their concerns, presented to the public at large is sensible. And who better to do that than media organizations that have built up large audiences over the years? But there is a degree to which this becomes an abdication of responsibility. The best way to ensure that a story is heard is to tell people yourselves, and that means competing with the other ways in which they can spend their time. Which is often a difficult and thankless task. But it's a necessary one, if for no other reason than it leads to an understanding of what people's concerns and priorities are.

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