In the past year, I’ve woken up to the lies corporate media presents about me and my community. I’m learning how to deconstruct corporate media’s scripts and analyze its “facts.” I question if the corporate narrative represents our community. I’m wondering about what’s left out of the story, and why. I think of ways it could be different. How can media help the way we see each other, and ourselves? How can media help us understand the bad in the world, but also recognize the good? This is why the opportunity to speak with Jeff Cohen, media critic and founder of the media watchdog group FAIR, is special to me.
Jeff Cohen is an inspiration to talk to because he’s experienced what corporate media is like, and he’s also successfully working to create and support independent media. He understands independent media is not something “other” or “alternative,” but it is a media revolution. He spoke during our chat about the role of independent media today: to tell stories, and grow, and learn, and repeat. It’s a way for us to move forward and change the narrative. It will stop fetishizing the false notion of objectivity, and it will find a way to move within its AP Stylebook limits. Jeff Cohen called this a straightjacket – which is exactly how it feels – to write inside boundaries literally goes no where. It’s claustrophobic to write about a human experience or interaction with so many limitations. But there are ways to flip around inside the straightjacket – and that’s what Jeff encourages us to do.
The newsroom saying, “if it bleeds, it leads,” has left society with a stream of information that aims to create fear alongside facts, as if the combination of information and fear is natural, and leaves little room for critical thinking. Their ratings, in fifteen minute increments, are fed by sensationalism. Our mainstream media places the U.S. in the center of all news stories in order to emphasize that we are more significant than the “others,” and that our lives are more valuable. But this “objective” tone does incredible damage. This reinforcement that we are more important, that the punishment always fits the crime, is what has gotten hard to ignore in the media as we’ve seen wars against countries and against ideas. The wars of gender, sexuality, and race are not just theoretical, but practiced…violently. We need to change our media because these narratives create demons.
This critique is a tricky argument to make, Jeff Cohen points out. It’s not just about getting the facts wrong, it’s the details the media uses to illustrate a story. At a protest, there’s no hesitation to label the protestors “rioters” and to pick apart their appearances. It’s this dehumanization, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, that corporate media uses against us. This is why the internet has given rise to the movements that are going on across the globe – it gives us the freedom to tell our own stories. It gives the public a real-life, close-up look at what is going on, a true network. A collective of millions of voices to paint a sincere picture. It gives us the freedom to publish the stories mainstream media ignores.
This is why I’m determined that this struggle for journalism is worth it. Journalism is truly a beautiful thing – it’s one of the ways that we share our stories with each other. Through a story, I can find myself across the planet: learning, imagining, connecting. Sometimes a photo can be so vivid that it can take me there. Maybe it’s simply a quote that can grab my eye and it will stay in my mind for days. There’s this magic about a story that is really honest – and it’s something that can’t be taught, or bought with money. Corporate media will realize the consequences of their straightjackets in due time, but for now, we can continue to grow our own stories through independent media.