Friday, June 26, 2009

Splitting the Arrow

Remember the Robin Hood stories where he fires away and splits the arrow already in the center of the target? If there's a word in German for hitting the exact center of something, clearly and unequivocably, I'd like the know it and use it here. There are billions of words in the media and online, a lot of them mildly interesting, amusing, or somewhat informative -- but whether we have too much or too little information, the essential reasons for and causes of events are often lost to overload, censorship or are just not visible. We fasten on soundbites, the extreme and sensational, and that constitutes our reality. And this culture of misdirected ignorance keeps leading us to disaster. How can we make any good choices when most of what we know is wrong, unimportant, or just noise?
Starting with the local, two examples: the new hotel a few blocks away closed a few weeks after opening, is still just sitting there, and not a word in the local paper. Twenty pages of high school news and sports, though. I and a co-worker were interviewed and photographed for a story on the expansion of the science museum in the 90s. Half of what I said was misquoted, the photo showed nothing, and nothing interesting made it into the story. Okay, another old example: when I lived on Hanover Avenue, a serial killer/mutilator was working in the neighborhood (I got some details from a cop who lived two doors away). Nothing, ever, in the paper about it. That was actually news we could have used!
Rus made a stellar point in his RTD forum, Unceremoniously Dispatched: journalism school does not emphasize writing -- the reporting should be accurate and thorough, but it needs to be interesting. NOT crudely titillating, but with telling details, color and meaning. And if newspapers and other media "don't tell us what we really want to know," -- and that is so true -- I'd say the majority of the readership or listenership doesn't even want to know what they should know; they just chase sensation.
Every day in our paper and on the air, people quote the iconic Reagan line (written by a speechwriter, but always credited to the amiable moron), "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" as the defining moment of the fall of the Soviet empire. This, media world, is not what happened at all. Today columnist Thomas Friedman pointed out what everyone seemingly has never known, much less forgotten: the body blow which felled the Soviets dates to September 1985, when Sheikh Yamani, oil minister of Saudi Arabia (pictured above), boldly decided to stop protecting oil prices so when that nation boosted its production fourfold, it would again dominate the market with a lot of product as prices went into a freefall. While it made billions on high oil income in the 70s, the Soviet Union wasted the funds on continuing the creaky status quo and engaging in military adventure in Afghanistan (which history teaches no one should ever attempt). Oh -- does this sound familiar (no reform under the Republican Congress and then trillion-dollar foreign adventures under Bush/Cheney)?? The essential center of the economic/political story since 1970 (when domestic oil production peaked and the balance of power shifted to Eurasia) has been OIL PRICES. Which direction trillions of dollars goes for energy supplies is THE news story, not Michael Jackson's or Newt Gingrich's mental problems. Whether lobbyists successfully disable thorough banking, energy and health reform, or we soon start recharging our electric cars almost for free from our home solar panels or wind turbines is the next big story.
Will anyone write it? Will anyone care enough to read it?

1 comment:

  1. DEAD CENTER. That is what I remember from archery. But don't work yourself up too much. The world turns and people do what they do. The good, bad and ugly side of life. MJ and FF die and the news is filled with reports of drugs in cars and lost lovers, but DOES THAT REALLY MATTER.
    If the electricity went off right now....?
    That would matter. That would halt the movement of the planet and the ultimate question.
    How can we all get along?