Monday, September 2, 2019

Choice of Interests

I was listening to a podcast about the situation at the United States-Mexico border and, I have to admit, I found it long and tedious. Mainly because the format was an interview with someone who was effectively an immigration activist, and her constant repetition of her favored talking points was tiresome. It touched on all of the things that one would expect a conversation with an advocate to touch on: how wretched the people were, how deplorable their treatment had been, how shabby the behavior of Immigration and Customs Enforcement was et cetera.

But, to be sure, this wasn't really intended as news. The podcast was the work of an opinion magazine and the whole episode was really one long human-interest piece; it was about holding up persons that the interviewee was advocating for as objects of pity and sympathy, and no-one said any differently at any point. And what struck me about it was how similar it seemed to other stories about the border that I'd heard and read. And some of those were from outlets that considered themselves news.

And I wonder if this is the reason why people have come to feel that news sources are more biased. Sure, some significant part of that perception could be due to people feeling that the only objective outlooks on the world are ones that agree with them. But the thing about human-interest stories is that to the degree that they're about someone's experiences, their objectivity is measured by fidelity to those experiences, emotions and all, and not in terms of accurately describing the broader situation and circumstances. And one would expect that some significant portion of the reason why people in positions of advocacy make themselves available to the media is to advocate for their causes and/or constituents.

To be sure, I don't believe that there is some cynical plot afoot to mislead people by presenting them with a steady diet of stories about people, rather than facts. But I do think that presenting human-interest, rather than hard-fact, stories is that it enables news outlets to better position stories in ways that their audience approves of, while staying within the lines of objectivity. Which I'm not sure helps people's overall understandings of the situations at hand, but then again, that's not really what people are asking for, is it?

No comments: